This article was originally published on Fair Observer.
This new surge of IDPs has stretched local resources beyond their limit while putting enormous pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as well as local nongovernmental organizations (NGO). The KRG is already facing significant economic challenges. The payment of civil servant salaries has been delayed as the central government in Baghdad has withheld large parts of the Kurdish share of the national budget since February, due to disputes over oil exports to Turkey and revenue sharing.
Life Inside the Camps
There are approximately 26 camps in the Kurdistan region, which are usually half-finished and very crowded, with limited privacy due to shared areas for bathrooms and showers. In addition, thousands of public buildings, particularly schools, are inhabited by refugees and IDPs — in some places, Syrians and Iraqis mix together.
The physical and mental conditions of refugees and IDPs are very difficult. Each displaced person has tragic stories of his or her own escape from war-torn regions and how they undertook long and dangerous journeys to reach safety, leaving behind homes and loved ones, which has led to trauma and suffering. For many families, there is at least someone who is missing, killed or still struggling to leave the conflict areas.
Karwan Haidari, the communication manager at Qandil, a Swedish humanitarian aid organization, told Fair Observer:
“The largest camp is Domiz refugee camp in Duhok, where more than 40,000 Syrian refugees reside. I believe Duhok governorate has the most mixed-up IDP population; IDPs can be seen everywhere inside and outside the city, most of them living in harsh conditions without having any specific settlement. In Erbil, there is Bahirka camp, where you can find displaced people from most of the violence-affected areas in Iraq.”
The refugees who fled violence said that locals treat them with respect. Most families Fair Observer spoke to do not want to return to their homes until peace has been restored and the war is over.
European and US officials applauded the KRG for opening its borders to accept the displaced and offer humanitarian aid regardless of ethnicity or religious identity. The KRG, however, urged the international community to offer financial support and medical supplies to deal with the large flow of refugees and IDPs.
Marco Rotunno, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) camp manager of the Arbat Camp near Sulaimaniya, did not deny the harsh conditions for refugees and agreed that KRG officials were supportive and the locals were hospitable. “The sudden flood of refugees has placed great stress on the NGOs and humanitarian organizations,” Rotunno added.
Disease runs high in Arbat Camp and other public buildings that are used by IDPs, due to a shortage of water and medical supplies. Rotunno confirmed that they are only able to provide basic health facilities, but “whoever has a severe case is given a specific ticket to be treated in governmental hospitals.”
Iraq’s Kurdistan region is thought to be hosting approximately 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDP) and refugees. This number is expected to rise due to ongoing instability in Syrian Kurdistan and Iraq’s Nineveh province.
Khiada Aimen, a 26-year-old mother of two, was desperate to get help for her younger daughter. “An organization came about a year ago to check my daughter, but they never let me know what her exact disease is,” she told Fair Observer, holding her younger child. “My daughter has a severe pain in her stomach and I do not know what to do with her.”
Salah Ramadan Rasul, a 35-year-old father of seven, said his main concern is that he cannot buy diapers and infant milk for his children because he is jobless. “Usually, two of us are sick and the quality of medical supply is not good.” Another man sitting beside Rasul said he cannot see properly and his condition is deteriorating day by day.
Farid Khalaf Shamsadin, a 40-year-old father of eight, complained about a water shortage and the sewage project that was supposed to be finished a while ago. During this author’s visit, a group of Shamsadin’s friends asked for canned food and complained about the quality they receive. Some stated that they sold the goods in the market to buy food they like.
Besides concerns over water shortage, electricity and sanitary arrangements, refugees and IPDs are in dire need of psychological sessions and counseling, to overcome their fears and the repercussions of war.
Unemployed Youth and Peshmerga Recruitment
Fair Observer spoke with many young people — men and women — inside the camps. They asked officials to find them job opportunities because, as they stated themselves, they spend most of their daily lives wandering unproductively. Fatma Ramadan, a 20 year old, was one of the few refugees who were hired by the IRC along with seven other women and five men. She said there are many young people who have the potential and will to work alongside the NGO teams, but they usually hire people outside the camp to run their affairs. “[The] IRC gives me less than $200 per month. It is not enough to provide for my family,” Ramadan stated.
Four young men were demanding to be employed as security personnel, so they could “defend their dignity.” Ashraf Mohammed said: “We seriously need to register our names as volunteer Peshmerga because our very existence is under threat.” He added: “It is not only Syrian Kurds who have been victims of civil war, but also our Kurdish brothers and sisters in Arabized lands surrounding Mosul. Our Kurdish identity has been targeted.”
The majority of IDPs and refugees who were interviewed asked for more aid in terms of food and medical supplies. However, other factors like the need to protect the Kurdish identity and deal with the psychological damage that has been caused by IS and other militant Sunni groups were apparent. This was symbolized by Walid Imael, who stated with pride: “I am young and have the energy to protect anyone, and my people need me. Freedom is more important than electricity and food.”
Refugee Influx and NGOs Operating in the Region
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the time of writing there were over 221,000 registered Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan region — mostly Syrian Kurds — and 948 others awaiting registration. Estimates for the IDP population displaced by IS range at around 862,000 people.
Jane* Hill, the manager of a local NGO operating in Sulaimaniya province whose focus is primarily on child protection, claims that before the crisis there were only 2,700 registered IDPs in Sulaimaniya. Now, the number of registered IDPs has jumped to over 171,000; among them are 66,000 Yazidis and 23,000 Shabaks, with the rest being Christians, Sunnis and Kakayis. In addition, there are 6,500 children accounted for under the age of 15, who are looked after by local and international charity organizations.
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This article was originally published on Fair Observer.