Urgent assistance needed for thousands fleeing violence in northern Iraq

Published: 9 July 2014 14:15 CET

By Joe Cropp in Sinjar, Iraq

Yassem and his small family fled Mosel just after midnight as the explosions hit the town. With nothing but the clothes they were wearing, they joined thousands of others walking west to the safety of Sinjar. He talks of how the road was attacked during the night, the fear his family felt, and how people following closely behind were killed.

“Bombs were falling on houses all around us, so we ran. We left everything behind,” says Yassem.

“We just wanted to get somewhere safe, to get away from the fighting,” he says. “But now we don’t know where to go. We have nothing.”

Weeks after escaping Mosul, the seven of them remain camped in a large hall on the outskirts of the town, their 'home' a few square metres of floor space. Alongside 200 other families, they are sleeping on donated mattresses and relying on food from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society to get by. There are few toilets in the hall, no cooking utensils, and fresh water is in short supply. Adding to the challenges, two of his children have fallen ill.

It is a common story, repeated by families right across the Kurdish zone. Currently, many of the hundreds and thousands of people who have fled are being sheltered in over-crowded transit camps, which will struggle to accommodate many more families if the violence continues.

Others are relying on the generous support of friends and relatives, with as many as five families now sharing a single home. Many of these families are already struggling financially, unable to secure the basic food and resources they need to get by. Those without family to stay with, or the luxury of savings, are staying in schools, mosques and unfinished building sites.  

The problem is exacerbated by a break down in basic infrastructure in some areas, where people lack access to essential services such as water and health care.

The World Health Organisation says there is an immediate threat of fatal diseases such as measles and polio spreading in the overcrowded living conditions and hastily set up transit camps.

There is also a real danger of water shortages in the camps, with searing temperatures of up to 45C has already caused a spike in water usage.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society – already providing relief to thousands of Syrian refugees – has mobilised resources to assist this new wave of displaced families. With support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), staff and volunteers from the Red Crescent have been distributing food and water, and have so far reached around 200,000 people.

But as the conflict continues and more families flee the violence, Iraqi Red Crescent is increasingly concerned for the thousands of people in the camps or living with host families.  

“If the violence continues to escalate, which seems very likely according to numerous assessments, it will drive many more people out of their homes to seek refuge,” says Dr Yassin al-Ma’amouri, President of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

“Although our volunteers and staff are ever ready to assist, a further surge of displacement will push the response capacity of the Red Crescent close to the limit,” he says. “It will also put a strain on the already depleting resources of host families and overload the capacity of existing camps.”  

IFRC has launched an emergency appeal for CH6.4 million in cash, kind or services to help support the Iraqi Red Crescent Society meet the needs of 180,000 people for six months.