Thousands of Syrian refugees have crossed into the Kurdish region of Iraq

By Raefah Makki, IFRC

The Kurdish region of Iraq has seen a huge rise in the number of people fleeing the violence in Syria. Thousands have begun to arrive in major cities including the capital of Kurdistan, Erbil and in Sulaymaniyah. The rise in numbers is caused by intensified fighting in northern Syria and the reopening of the Peshkhabur border.

According to the UN, more than 30,000 people – mostly women, children and the elderly – have fled from northern Syria into the Kurdish region of Iraq since Thursday.

Around 95 per cent of the registered Syrian refugees in Iraq are in this region, mainly in Dohuk governorate.

In response to the sudden influx, temporary camps are being built. In Sulaymaniyah, 14,000 Syrians were already attempting to make a temporary home in the city before the recent influx, some in camps around the city, and others hosted within communities.

Inevitably, there are major needs within makeshift camps for both accommodation and financial support. Suzanne lives with her three children in a tent next to her in-laws. She says many people are waiting for the new camps to be built. “Our conditions are not bad but we are looking forward to moving to the new camp and have our equipped tent,” she said. “What we need at this stage is cash assistance where we can have some control over our needs and expenses.”

Next to Suzanne’s tent lives eight-year-old Warda from Deir Ezzour. When asked about her wish, she said: “I want to go back to school and study science. I used to like science the most.”

In addition to temporary camps, the city has accommodated 4,000 people in 11 schools and mosques. The Arbat school is relatively small, but is now home to 43 families living either in classrooms or in corners of the playground where the heat and humidity is not so fierce. Many families have faced traumatic journeys in high temperatures. Walat, 27, arrived at the school with his three children. He says the heat was relentless. “We arrived at the school on Saturday night after more than 12 hours on the road and another day waiting at the border.”

There are three main camps in Kurdistan: Domiz in Dohuk Governorate houses 59, 000 people, Dara Shakran in Erbil Governorate to be opened in end of August, with accomodate another 15,000, and Sulaymaniyah Governorate will take another 12,000 in a camp due to open in November.

Dr. Yasin Abbas, the President of Iraqi Red Crescent Society, said the organization has played a major role responding to the complex needs of Syrian refugees and Iraqi returnees. In Sulaymaniyah, the Society provided 3,500 hot meals and water following initial assessments, and this will be followed by 1,000 food parcels and 500 relief kits starting tomorrow (Friday 23 August). In Erbil Governorate, the society conducted an assessment and will provide 300 tents, 200 water tanks and 500 First aid kits to assist the most vulnerable families.

In Sulaymaniyah, the organization has brought in 3,500 hot meals and the same number of water rations following initial assessments, and this will be followed by 1,000 food parcels and 500 relief kits starting tomorrow.

Sulaymaniyah Branch Manager, Dr. Salaheddine Ali Saleh, undertook a field visit today with the disaster management team from National Society and representatives from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He said: “The problem is that we didn’t expect this number of Syrians to arrive in a very short time, but we have done our best to help these families and we will continue assessing the needs and monitor the situation on a daily basis to help in the best way possible.”

Since the beginning of the refugee crisis in Iraq, the National Society has distributed food parcels, non-food items, hygiene kits and provided first aid and psychosocial support to Syrian refugees across the Iraq and in neighbouring countries. Teams remain on standby to respond to any gaps or needs in coordination with other agencies as the situation evolves.