Northern Iraq: Summer ends, winter begins. But the fear remains.


Jacqueline Dürre is CARE Project Coordinator for Kurdistan-Iraq. In her blog, she writes about encounters with families who have been displaced over a year ago and still live in exile.

On my way back home from Frankfurt Airport to Bonn, the rain is drumming against the train window. My thoughts wander off to an elderly woman named Bas. I met her in the Kurdistan region of Iraq some days before. She is one of 12,000 people living in a camp named Bersive 1. Bas is one of 1.5 million people displaced in Northern Iraq. The majority of them seek refuge within the country’s own borders. After Syria and Colombia, Iraq counts the largest number of internally displaced persons worldwide. 

It has become colder in Germany while I was away, I notice. And it is the same for Iraq. Last winter, the temperatures in Bersive dropped below freezing. And darkness falls earlier each day. 

“When the rain drops are pounding against the tent these days, all the memories of violence and war are coming back to me”, Bas told me. „Than the kids huddle together and hide under the covers,” she continues. “They are so afraid. I try to stay strong and not show my fear, but in reality I think I’m the most scared of all. I just want to hide, see nothing more, hear nothing more.”

The tarpaulins in the camp aren’t resistant to all weather conditions. In the summer it becomes unbearably hot inside and in the winter it is terribly cold. But even these hardships seem to be bearable compared the memories that haunt Bas. Each of them has left a deep wound in her soul:

“They took our women and girls. They tortured and sold them. We lost so many of our loved ones. Some girls are killing themselves. They can’t live with the shame and the horror,” says Bas who is a grandmother herself. ” I wouldn’t have reached the camp without this walking stick. It was unbearably hard for me to walk the long way from Singal. My whole body hurts to this day and no medication seems to help. But at least with my walking stick, I can move a little bit around the camp.”

In cooperation with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs CARE installed sanitary facilities in the camp Bersive 1. With the additional toilets and showers, the habitants have shorter distances to walk while fewer persons have to share one facility. CARE also set up ramps and handlebars so that Bas can enter the facilities by herself. Bas appreciates the support she gets from CARE in the camp. Her family also received some hygiene products and tableware by CARE. But the elderly lady is still worried: “There is a lot to do here. The tents are getting worn out and winter draws near. We don’t have enough warm clothes. We didn’t take anything from home. We have survived the horror. But should we die here now?” Her daughter-in-law, who is missing her husband since the flight in 2014, adds: “But all of this misery would be bearable if only we would be reunited with those we love. If I could be together with my husband I wouldn’t need anything else to be happy.”

My train arrives in Bonn; I get off and open up my umbrella. And I reflect on my visit to Bersive: We won’t be able to take away all of Bas’ and her family’s worries. But we can try to make her current situation a bit more bearable. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot. Like this umbrella that protects me from the rain. It doesn’t stop the rain but it’s a small relief.