“My hope?” asked Hadji Mahmoud, 52-year-old Iraqi father. “I want to return home with my family. We may have a tent roof over our heads here, but this not what we want.” Hadji Mahmoud is one of thousands of Iraqis who have been forced to leave their homes and belongings behind in the Mount Sinjar region of northern Iraq. He lives now in Khanke camp, in one tent with his wife and nine children.
“The journey was very long and exhausting. We had to sleep in the open for one week as we walked from Sinjar to Dohuk. My 4-year-old son, Honar, was about to die from thirst,” Hadji Mahmoud said. He arrived in Dohuk mid-July after the Yazidi community became a target of violence.
More than 860,000 people have sought safety – often after a long, tiring walk – in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Approx 65 per cent of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in Dohuk governorate along the Syrian and Turkish border.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society has been responding to the needs of the people since the first day of the crisis. Life-saving assistance – including food, water and tents for hundreds of thousands of displaced people – is delivered through more than 4,000 staff and volunteers in 17 provinces.
Dohuk’s population has grown by almost 50 per cent over the last year, putting a major strain on local resources including food security and the health care system in the governorate. People and authorities in Dohuk have opened schools and communal buildings to host families, but some are living under bridges and in unfinished buildings.
More than 673 schools are hosting IDPs – a situation that has an obvious effect on both the displaced and local students as the school year is delayed.
Water supplies have also deteriorated significantly in the last two weeks, exposing the lives of thousands to the threat of disease outbreak, especially in crowded shelters. According to World Health Organization (WHO) and local authorities in Dohuk, there is a high risk of polio.
“I don’t know what we will do when the first winter rain falls on our tents. I think all the tents in this camp will be flooded... wiped out,” said Hadji Mahmoud. “At this moment, we can’t bear the sun, and in a few weeks we won’t be able to stand the cold weather.”
With winter looming, protection and shelter are becoming more important. Winter in the Kurdish region can be very harsh and snow can fall starting November.
Elhadj As Sy, the Secretary General of the IFRC, visited Iraq with the director-general of the ICRC, Mr Yves Daccord. “The families and children I met in Khanke camp in Dohuk are true inspiration for resilience. There, they are still keeping their dignity after a long, exhausting and risky journey,” he said. “The situation in Iraq calls for greater attention and solidarity. We will mobilise the force of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement to support the Iraqi Red Crescent Society in responding to the needs of the most vulnerable. Together with our volunteers, we will always be there,” added Mr Sy.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society continues to work to reach more families across the cities and regions of Iraq. By providing support in the most hard to reach areas such as Sinjar and Tal Afar, more than 155,000 displaced families have been reached by the Red Crescent to date.
The IFRC has launched an emergency appeal for CH6.4 million in cash, in kind or services to help support the Iraqi Red Crescent Society meet the needs of 180,000 people for six months.