When Iraq Means Safety: Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis
by Ingrid Lund, Senior Humanitarian Communications Officer, Save the Children
Throughout my entire childhood, “Iraq” was only ever mentioned in the same breath as “war” on the news. When war struck, Iraqis fled to Syria to find safety. Now, the situation has reversed. To date, more than 195, 000 Syrians have fled to Iraq in order to escape the violence and atrocities back home. They fled – on foot – under the cover of darkness to avoid sniper fire and shelling. Taking only what they could carry, they arrive exhausted, hungry and terrified. This is a difficult journey for most, but especially for children. It is hard to imagine how desperate the situation in Syria is, but it says a lot about security when parents decide to take their children with them and flee to the relative safety of Iraq.
Before the war many Syrians lived normal, modern lives not too different from how we live; families had houses, cars, computers, nice clothes, good lives.
Now everything is turned upside-down – they are refugees in a camp.
Photo by Tue Jakobsen Save the Children
Over 55,000 Syrians currently face a tough life in tents in Iraq’s largest refugee camp, Domiz. When I visited the camp, it was incredibly dusty and hot with temperatures above 40° Celcius in the shade – if you could find any.
I was shown around the camp by Sara, a resident of Domiz. Everyone we met and spoke with agreed, there is too little drinking water, and water for washing is close to impossible to get. The only water that is easily accessible is in puddles lining the periphery of the camp. Stagnant, foul smelling, and black, this water is a breeding ground for bacteria, so it is not surprising that diarrhea, respiratory diseases and skin rashes are becoming widespread problems throughout the camp.
Despite these terrible living conditions and the violence and fear that families experienced in Syria – Domiz has a vibrant atmosphere. Once you enter the main gate, children are running around, there is playing, you can hear the sound of laughter and inside a makeshift grocery shop a group of women are having a pleasant chat.
“People are trying to live as normal lives as possible. Although many things are difficult, most of us are happy to be here – we are safe here,” says Sara. The remarkable resilience of the residents of Domiz is striking. Life in the camp is not just about a fight for survival. It is also about regaining a sense of normalcy.
Save the Children is trying to contribute to a sense of normalcy and the growing need of over 1 million refugees in Iraq and neighbouring countries. They’re distributing food and clean water, providing shelter, psychosocial support, and organizing safe spaces for children to be children again. Support their work at savethechildren.ca.
This entry is an excerpt from Save the Children’s Voices from the Field blog, originally posted here.