Syrian refugees in Iraq struggling to survive

Children in the camp have no warm clothes to protect them from the harsh winter

I wanted to give a summary of my visit today to a camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq where thousands of Syrian refugees are struggling through the cold winter months, writes Debbie Santalesa from CARE’s emergency response team.

There are approximately 1,900 families or more than 11,000 people. It’s estimated that 40% of households are now female-headed as the men were either missing, captured or killed during fighting in the past year.

CARE has already provided winter support through the provision of winter clothing and kits including kerosene tanks, stoves, blankets, carpets and jerry cans.

And we’re committed to help provide water, sanitation and hygiene support – something that the people in the camp clearly need.

Health risks

We have just completed a one-time collection of garbage as this had not been done in two weeks and was becoming a hygiene and health risk. But without ongoing support, there is no-one who will be collecting the garbage.

Our assessment also noted the latrines, wash facilities and septic tanks are not sufficient for a camp with 11,000 people. They do not meet humanitarian standards both in number and location and there are problems with how they were constructed: in some areas the sewage pipe is leaking, causing a build-up of sewage water near the latrines, which were beginning to leak into some of the nearby tents where people are living. The smell is foul now.

Safety issues

For some people, their tents are only a few metres away. But for those on the other side, the latrines are too far for children, women and the elderly to safely access – especially at night.

I noticed women having to carry 20+ litre drums on their heads to get water for their daily needs; one young girl told me she came several times a day to help her mother with bringing water.

Winter clothing

We met one man who had four children. As we spoke, his youngest, a boy about two years old, came running over without shoes and wearing clothes too big. In fact, all the kids playing in that camp area were wearing shoes or clothes that were either too small or too big for them; none had proper winter jackets or warm sweaters.

His father explained that the young child had a heart problem, but the camp doctor could not help and they had no money to go to the town hospital to treat their small child. The man also told us that they needed more clothes for the older people like him as the clothes previously distributed were useful, but much more is needed.

Lack of resources

The camp managers told us they were trying their best to help the people and wish they could do more, but they are understaffed and do not have the resources to meet the needs of all the families in this camp.

Debbie Santalesa is a senior programme manager with CARE Canada’s humanitarian assistance and emergency team. CARE is working with local partners to support displaced Syrian families in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

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