International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq leaves thousands in need of food, water and shelter

As new waves of violence engulf Iraq, the International Rescue Committee is providing emergency medical care for some 4,000 dehydrated Yazidis, mostly women and children, who have survived without food or water for up to six days while hiding in the Sinjar mountains from militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

They arrived at the Newrooz camp Thursday evening in Al Hazakah province in northeastern Syria, joining 20 Syrian families displaced by their country's civil war.

At least 30,000 Yazidis, a religious minority group in Iraq, were forced to escape to the mountains. Many are still stranded, fearing persecution if they leave, but facing death from dehydration if they remain.

The IRC has twice deployed ambulances packed with medicines and supplies to the Newrooz camp. Medical needs are immediate, and include severe dehydration, diarrhea, sun stroke, war injuries and emotional trauma. A focus on the needs of women and children is critical. In the coming days, the IRC plans to also provide basic necessities including cooking equipment, soap, blankets and plastic sheeting for shelter.

“Our teams have identified thousands of families who have fled in the last 72 hours, and there are more coming,” says Suzanna Tkalec, the IRC’s emergency response field director. “We are working with other organizations and U.N. agencies on the ground to mobilize a fast, coordinated response to the greatest needs.”

Yazidi families flee towards Duhok. About 200,000 residents have left their homes in Sinjar. Photo: Juan Saed/IRC 

Families fleeing in all different directions

Many attacks this past week were targeted at Iraq’s religious minority groups including Yazidis, Shia Arabs and Christians.

IRC staff traveled to towns in the contested areas between the Ninewa and Duhok governorates to distribute essential items like soap, toothbrushes, diapers and medicines. However, the towns were empty. The people who remained were preparing to leave for Duhok, a city in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, where up to 250,000 more people are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

In Kurdistan’s capital Erbil, churchyards in the Christian neighborhood Ainkawa are overflowing with families who fled in the past few days. Camps set up by the Kurdish government in the contested areas are also nearly empty. Only 25 percent of Iraqis in the Garmawa camp who were displaced by previous waves of violence remain.

“The needs continue to increase by the hour, and it’s imperative that the international community continue to provide the Iraqi people and humanitarian organizations with funding and support to save the lives of civilians,” says Tkalec.

Since the crisis began early last month, an estimated 850,000 Iraqis have fled the ongoing violence. According to the United Nations, 1.2 million people in Iraq have been displaced this year.

The IRC currently works in 13 of Iraq’s 18 governorates and, as the U.N. refugee agency's largest partner in the country, has been at the forefront of monitoring the influx of the newly displaced Iraqis.

The IRC has reached more than 1,400 families since early June, distributing water as well as bedding and other emergency supplies to displaced Iraqis and the communities providing them shelter. The IRC also registered 637 families hosting Iraqis for vouchers redeemable at local vendors for emergency supplies.

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