Displaced People in Northern Iraq: Giving Up is Not an Option


In August 2014, ten thousands of people fled their homes in Mount Sinjar to find safety in northern Iraq. A year later, they still remain in a foreign place. Jaqueline Dürre is CARE Project Officer for Kurdistan-Iraq. In her blog, the Berliner writes about meeting people who had to leave everything behind and flee.

Before I boarded the plane to Erbil in Northern Iraq, I took out the garbage: Compost, plastics, paper – it’s a familiar procedure. A few days later, I was standing in Camp Berseve which had been dominated by ever growing waste piles during my last visit. The camp was set up in November 2014 for approximately 2,500 families who have fled violence and the attacks on their homes in Mount Sinjar, Mosul and other places in Iraq. The priority of people was simply to get a safe roof over their heads. A lot has changed since then: Today, Berseve has a waste disposal similar to the one I rely on at home. CARE has provided families with garbage bags and organizes their disposal together with volunteers who live in the camp. Mothers with whom I spoke during my visit were now much less concerned about the hygiene situation than they have been a few months ago. There has been a lot of progress: CARE is guaranteeing fire protection and other organizations have set up a small school, a kindergarten and a small health center. The improvements in infrastructure and living conditions in the camp are of course very positive. However, at the same time, it is sad to see that a more permanent structure is needed in the first place. Berseve only ought to be a temporary home, an intermediate station. But is now appears that people will have to live and endure in the camp for much longer than they initially expected. Their hope for a quick return has diminished as an end to the crisis seems nowhere in sight. 

Despite all mourning for lost family members, their ongoing concerns for loved ones in Iraq and the deep desire to have their normal lives back, families do not give up. They try to adapt as much as possible to the new situation. They arranged a small market where some families sell fruits and vegetables to create a small income. A hairdresser has provisionally set up in a tent to practice his profession again. Some women have managed to build traditional tandoor ovens so they can bake bread.

Step by step, everyone is trying to improve their own life and the lives of others around them. Fatima, one of the camp’s residents, is very much part of this: While I walked through the camp, her daughter Aisha caught my attention as she was laughing merrily on a swing like so many other children would do around the world. The difference is that Aisha is sitting on a homemade swing which is mounted between two tents closely strung together. Her mother was proudly watching her – the family built the swing herself. Fatima flew with her four children, her husband and her mother from the fighting in Mosul in 2014. In the camp they can at least feel comparatively safe, but life remains difficult and uncertain..

The family lives cramped in a tent, currently worrying about the approaching summer heat. How are they supposed to endure in a plastic tent when temperatures reach up to 50 degrees? How will they keep what little food they have fresh? To get to the toilet, Fatima has to walk a long distance. She does not dare to walk on her own or let her children go alone. Reports of sexual assaults on women and girls in Iraq come into my mind. For those who survived unspeakable atrocities, life remains tough: How hard must it be to live in a camp full of people, penned up in small tents with almost no privacy, forced to walk 200 meters to the closest toilet at night?

CARE tries to improve the situation in the camp with funds from the German, Canadian and Dutch governments, Aktion Deutschland Hilft and private donations. CARE is building additional latrines and showers, repairing existing washing facilities and distributing hygiene items, water containers and cool-boxes for the hot summer months. Despite the many challenges there is plenty of scope to assist people in improving the terrible situation they face, as the waste disposal shows. Nevertheless, CARE and other organizations do not give up but work under high pressure to help. Giving up is not an option – people like Fatima do not do it either.