Displaced families fleeing violence are in desperate need of food, shelter, clean water, medicine, and protection.
Thousands of families that fled attacks have reached the Kurdish region in northern Iraq and are in need of immediate aid.
World Vision-funded aid has reached 350 families — more than 2,000 people — in Dohuk, distributed by the Iraqi group Women’s Empowerment Organization. Families received hygiene items, clothing, baby supplies, and toys.
World Vision staff members in this region are working with local partners to meet the immediate needs of displaced Iraqis. Among the priorities are food, health, water, sanitation, and child protection.
Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities are among the 1.8 million displaced by conflict and targeted persecution since January, according to United Nations’ estimates. Many have chosen to abandon their homes rather than their faith.
The Kurdish region already hosted more than 200,000 Syrian refugees, but conditions continue to worsen every day. In just one week, Iraq saw 200,000 additional people displaced.
Many displaced Iraqis arrived after grueling journeys on foot in temperatures that regularly exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some were forced to move several times to avoid being caught up in the violence that has forced them to flee their homes.
Reporting from Erbil, the capital and largest city in the Kurdish region, World Vision’s needs assessment team says that displaced families are finding shelter in abandoned buildings, schools, or churches. Some are setting up tents and sleeping in the open when they find a place they can feel safe.
“Many are moving to urban centers and community buildings that are currently being used and are quickly filling up and stretched beyond their capacity,” says Kathryn Taetzsch, leader of World Vision’s global rapid response assessment team in Erbil. “They are in desperate need of food, clean water, and medicine.”
Says another World Vision staff member, “One church our team visited in the city of Shaqlawa, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Erbil, had about 260 people, mostly Christians from Mosul and Qaraqosh, living in it. People were desperate and traumatized, just wanting to escape danger.”
Sibaya, a member of the Yazidi religious group, told a World Vision staff member, “I have two boys; one is 3, and one is a baby. We walked from Sinjar, then through Syria, and then we were brought here (Dohuk).
“It is so hard to be here with little children,” she continued. “They are constantly sick and there are no toys for them to play with. I hope that my children will be safe. I just wish for peace and safety.”
Says Shereen, a displaced mother of three, “We came here 15 days ago. We’ve been on this grass for 11 days.
“We can’t sustain ourselves here. We weren’t able to bring anything with us, even clothes or cash. We can’t live like this.”
The U.N. has declared the crisis in Iraq to be at the highest level of humanitarian emergency, on par with Syria, South Sudan, and Central African Republic.
“We are gravely concerned about increasing violence in the Middle East and its effects on children,” says Wynn Flaten, World Vision’s response director. “It’s especially concerning that this most recent wave has targeted Christians and other minorities. We know that when religious freedom is crushed, so are many of the rights that allow children and communities to flourish.”
At present, World Vision is responding to 13 humanitarian emergencies around the world, including the needs of hundreds of thousands of children and their families in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Gaza.
As with other disaster response efforts, World Vision is prioritizing the needs of children in this crisis, recognizing that they are always disproportionately affected by conflict and displacement.
“It is absolutely heartbreaking. Everyone we meet just wants to go home, but they can’t,” says Kathryn Taetzsch, World Vision’s response manager for Iraq. “People are doing their best to take care of each other but they need so much, and they need it quickly.”