22 March 2013
Christian Aid programme officer, Madeleine McGivern, recently returned from northern Iraq where she was visiting communities who have fled Syria and are now living as refugees. In this blog she reflects on her trip and tells the stories of people she met.
When the refugees arrived, they cleaned up abandoned houses and animal shelters and moved in. Now families share them - up to 20 people are living in each building, with new families arriving every week.
Avaline and her two young daughters (above, left), somehow still smiling, have been living in one of these structures for almost two years, having fled Syria leaving other family behind. In that time they’ve had just one visit from a mobile health clinic and share one contaminated water source with 150 other refugees living in this makeshift settlement.
Not enough food to live
In another unofficial refugee settlement, over 600 people struggle to survive in tents. They told me that they do not even have enough food to live.
The host Kurdish community are providing food, but as the number of families arriving grows daily, their generosity cannot meet demands - the people are grateful, but are hungry. We witnessed food distributions, as people desperately crowded around a vehicle carrying trays of cooked rice and chicken provided by local people.
UN figures state that there are now over 116,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq. Humanitarian needs are great, but people feel forgotten. Neither settlement is an official refugee camp.
Support from REACH
Christian Aid partner REACH will be supporting 1,500 refugee families in the north of Iraq. They will be providing much needed food supplies, infant kits for babies, and hygiene kits containing first aid equipment, water purifiers, sanitary products and other essential items for people to keep clean and healthy, while living in incredibly difficult conditions.
'Our dream is to go back to Syria, to be free and to live.’
Living in fear
The refugees I spoke to voiced their fears, including for people still inside Syria. Those still in contact with family and friends painted a dire picture of people living in fear of violence.
It was remarkable to hear these refugees, who have been through so much and still live in such difficult positions, promote the needs of others. In the short term, they expressed hope to improve the situation for themselves and their families: securing enough food, employment, helping their children to continue their education. They also talked of their hopes for the future.
These refugees’ stories and experiences reflect those of many; the conflict in Syria has now forced over 3 million people from their homes. They urgently need food, shelter and medical care.
The Syria Crisis Appeal is enabling Christian Aid partners in Lebanon and Iraq to respond to the growing Syrian refugee crisis. Our ACT Alliance sister agency, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), is also providing support to people in desperate need inside Syria itself.