4 March 2015 - Frances Guy, Head of Middle East at Christian Aid, reports back from visiting displaced Yazidi communities in Iraqi Kurdistan.
In August 2014 the world’s attention was drawn to a unique minority in Iraq being chased from their ancestral homes. Few of us had heard of the Yazidis before until their plight on the mountains of Sinjar became the focus of daily news bulletins. Today the battle to recover their lands is being slugged out between the Kurdish forces and ISIS with some limited gains for the Kurds. But for the more than 300,000 Yazidis sheltering in tents and half-finished buildings throughout Iraqi Kurdistan the pain goes on.
It snowed in Iraqi Kurdistan last weekend – glorious white slopes beckoned around Sulaymaniyah, glimmering in the sun, but it was bitterly cold. Along with Christian Aid’s local partner REACH I had the privilege to attend a distribution of basic supplies ; soap, bedding, nappies and other items funded from individual donors across Europe. The drawn skin around sunken eyes in sun burnt faces told the whole story, the pain is not far below the surface and basic needs are barely being met. Some of those I spoke to had come to Sulaymaniyah in the last three months after spending three months in overcrowded schools further north, others had come to Sulaymaniyah at the beginning of the crisis. All told stories of the generosity of the local population but all told stories of continued need too.
We went home with Ahmed who lives in a two roomed “house” on the edges of town with 23 other family members ; 12 of his own family, his wife and 11 children, and 11 of those of a relative. There is not enough running water for all of them meaning that they have to pay private contractors to refill their tanks. Children don’t attend school as they don’t speak Arabic and don’t speak the same version of Kurdish as that spoken locally. Only one girl in the family has some work in a local ice cream factory earning just about enough to cover the rent. For food they depend on the charity of locals and NGOs as supplies provided by the World Food Programme using the government distribution system don’t reach them. There are no medicines for anyone with any chronic illness.
One of the younger daughters wakes up with nightmares every night thinking that Da’ash (as ISIS is known locally) are in the room. And, perhaps worst of all, Ahmed spent his last savings to return home with some friends a few weeks ago when he heard that the Kurds had “liberated” the area near where they came from. It cost them more than $100 to discover that their houses had been burnt to the ground and all the contents destroyed. He was not able to salvage any belongings or bring any hope back to his family. His outward face is resolute and he tries to be positive for the sake of others in his immediate family and in the community nearby but he says for now that the Yazidis cannot return to their homelands without international protection. As international attention focuses once again on the next military battle spare a thought for those already pushed out of their homes and for whom, for now there is nothing to return to.
While there has been deliberate targeting of minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, it is clear that acute need exists among people from all religious backgrounds. An estimated 2.2 million people have been displaced across Iraq in the last year and 5.2 million require humanitarian assistance.(OCHA)
Christian Aid's long term partners in Iraq continue to provide vital humanitarian relief to displaced communities, with REACH scaling up its efforts in providing food, hygiene items, and blankets and fuel as protection from the harsh weather to vulnerable families in the north of the country. This work has been kindly supported by the ACT appeal and HEKS.
To find out more about our Iraq Crisis appeal or to donate please visit the Christian Aid website.
Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org
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5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk