Iraq: 'Be captured and killed — or risk dying of hunger' [COMMENTARY]
August 11, 2014 by Rachel Unkovic
|IRC doctors meet with Iraqi displaced families who were able to flee from the Sinjar Mountains and cross the border into Syria. These families were stranded on the slopes of Sinjar for days without food or water after fleeing new waves of violence in northern Iraq. Thousands more are still trapped in the mountains. Photo: Blake Dawgert/IRC|
Rachel Unkovic, the International Rescue Committee's grant coordinator in Iraq, writes about the current humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country where approximately 200,000 Iraqi women, children and men have been displaced just in the last week. The article was originally posted on The Irish Sun on August 10.
The world is currently holding its breath over the fate of the 40,000 people stranded on the slopes of Mount Sinjar, after fleeing the dramatic and sudden advance of Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq.
Around 130,000 people fled to the Kurdish cities of Dohuk and Irbil, but those without cars had no choice but to run to the mountains on foot. They have now been hiding there for up to a week without food or water.
The stranded thousands mostly come from the Yezidi religious community, which has been targeted by Islamic State fighters alongside Christians, Turkmens, Shia Arabs and other minorities in Sinjar province.
The armed group now has control of the roads up and down the mountains. Families desperately watch their children face starvation and death from dehydration but know that if they are in danger of being killed if they try and descend.
Before their mobile phone batteries died, a few people were able to get word to the outside world of their plight and need for help. UN and US airdrops have reach some of those stranded on the mountainside but the situation will continue to get worse unless they are offered safe passage out of the mountains soon.
Around 4,000 have successfully evaded Islamic State and crossed into neighboring Syria. It shows their desperation that their only option of safety was to flee to a war zone. Here my colleagues at the International Rescue Committee found them severely dehydrated, bewildered, unsure of where they are and traumatized by what they have seen.
These women, men and children have been welcomed into a small camp for Syrians who have also had to flee their homes. There were not enough tents, so we provided them with plastic sheeting. With the help of their new Syrian neighbors they have started to build makeshift shelters.
Overnight, we sent mobile medical teams to treat the effects of dehydration as well as sunstroke, diarrhea, and even war injuries. In the coming days we will be handing out basic necessities such as cooking equipment, blankets and soap.
I live and work in Irbil and saw my neighborhood completely change in a single hour. When I left for dinner the roads were normal but by the time I drove back they were flooded with families escaping the violence.
I saw cars piled high with their worldly possessions; suitcases, mattresses, food, baby strollers. The most touching items are the toys. I saw so many families who had given up valuable room in their cars to cram in plastic trucks or teddy bears in the attempt to keep a sense of normality for their children.
I’ll never forget the big eyes of the kids staring at us from the back seats of the cars, exhausted and scared.
With so many leaving behind their homes to escape the fighting – 850,000 have fled for their lives since June alone – it is an ongoing struggle to reach all those in need. With more money, we can increase our response and make sure that those who have fled can access safe drinking water, toilets, medicines, can be seen by qualified health personnel, have soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, baby diapers, menstrual pads, and other critical, everyday needs. We can make sure that they have a safe roof above their heads, until the day that they can return to their neighborhoods and homes.
We have to help them now because these people are our only hope in the rebuilding of Iraq. If Iraq is ever to be peaceful again, it is these women, men and children, currently lost, scared, with no safe shelter, who have to take the reins and rebuild the country. Iraq needs them desperately and so we have to help them now.