Islamic Relief aid worker, Sardar, based in Iraqi-Kurdistan – reports on how the harsh winter weather is deepening the hardship faced by displaced and refugee families
About three million people are thought to be displaced by complicated, protracted conflict in Iraq. Many are seeking safety in Iraqi-Kurdistan, which also hosts refugees from neighbouring Syria – where fighting has continued unabated for years, leading to the largest refugee exodus of modern times.
Islamic Relief, from its offices across the region, is delivering comprehensive humanitarian responses to assist those caught up in the conflicts. I am part of the team working in Iraq. We work closely with displaced and refugee families, to understand and meet their needs.
The situation here – especially in winter, is hard and heart-breaking. It gets cold here at this time of year, especially at night. Many displaced families are struggling to get warm. They are living in unheated tents or buildings such as schools. Their winter clothes and blankets are at home; they could not carry much when they fled.
Food is in short supply. They need heaters and oil for those heaters. They need a cooking stove and food to eat. They need warm clothing and footwear, as well as blankets, mattresses to ease their hardship.
Prioritising the most vulnerable, we are distributing simple but life-saving items in camps and communities – often in areas in which aid is scarce. As part of this wide-ranging programme, we are equipping Syrian refugees in three camps with mattresses, blankets, pillows, and children’s clothing.
In addition, we are providing stoves – which also offer warmth – as well as hygiene items, food parcels and fresh bread. Our last winter distribution at Darshakran camp, near Erbil reached some 815 refugees.
Speaking with the refugees made me sad. They told me that it was not just possessions that they had lost: they had left behind relatives, friends, jobs and memories of their old lives in Syria. Travelling on foot through the mountains to reach the border with Iraq, some of those trying to escape sadly lost their lives in the difficult journey.
Now, they rely on humanitarian aid from experienced organisations like Islamic Relief. They need food, medical assistance, and psychosocial support to deal with the traumatic situation. Their children are at risk of becoming a lost generation: they need access to education, and toys to help them have some sort of childhood once more.
The most vulnerable people – widowed women, elderly people, disabled individuals and children – need particular support. Everyone needs peace, but there is no end to the fighting yet in sight.