An elderly man distributes bread to a displaced family from Kirkuk, who are now sheltering at an unfinished housing
project in the Kurdistan Region capital.
This decade the Middle East has been shaken by political instability, violence and financial uncertainty. People in the
region have faced continual violence and insecurity— particularly under the threat of the so-called Islamic State
(ISIS). At present, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) accommodates tens of thousands of refugees and internally
displaced persons (IDPs), and their numbers increase daily.
The Civil war in Syria has also caused thousands of Syrians to shelter in the KRI. In spite of not being an official
state or country, and often referred to as the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation, Kurdistan has welcomed
hundreds of thousands of refugees and IDPs. A further issue is that viable employment has been difficult to find for
these IDPs and refugees.
Amity Civil Society Trust (Amity), a New Zealand based entity, is looking to work with local organizations and agencies
in Iraq to start a project that generates sustainable employment for youth and women from various parts of Iraq. This
project is still in its infancy, but we are looking to work through Amity to ensure sustainable development of the
conditions for IDPs and refugees in Iraq.
When ISIS invaded Sinjar and other nearby Kurdish towns in 2014, women were kidnapped, raped and sold. Their children
were carried off, and most of the men were killed. At that point, I felt overwhelmed. I especially felt for the women
who had to live with such trauma under this cruel group. I spent a long time wondering how I could help. At last, I
determined to create a charity organization, Helping Kurdistan Trust. It is a non-profit organization, whose mission is
to help people in war-ravaged Kurdistan, Iraq, and particularly the vulnerable, the homeless, and those who have
suffered from the war. Up until now, we have raised funds to provide necessities for Kurdish IDPs, Iraqi IDPs as well as
Syrian refugees. We have explicitly focused on camps in the Duhok Governorate, in the north of the KRI, due to the
substantial number of refugee and IDPs here.
According to UNHCR, there are a total of 95,400 civilian refugees and just over 189,000 IDPs in all the camps in
Kurdistan. The numbers in these camps recently have increased even more because of the continuing instability, with
Kurdish IDPs being forcibly displaced from disputed territories that have historically had Kurdish populations such as
Khurmatu, Kirkuk, and Pride. These were some of the towns that the Iraqi army and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have
invaded within the last few weeks. Civilians have been killed, houses burnt, and infrastructure damaged. UN reports show
within the previous two weeks, just over 61,000 IDPs have been displaced in Kurdistan, this increases the total number
of IDPs to approximately 250,000.
My greatest concern is for the people in camps, but soon even my own extended family in Kurdistan could be living in
similar conditions. The situation in Kurdistan is not improving. Many people in the Kurdish region remember the last
time they were displaced in the late 1980s and in the early 1990s. Erbil, where most of my family live is only 30
minutes away from Iraqi and Shiite militias, so there is a great deal of fear that mass-displacement is a reality yet
again. Just last week, I phoned an aunt of mine there, who was packing her things to escape in case the situation got
worse. This is a very common scene for Kurds over the past three generations. There's a Kurdish saying that the Kurds
have "no friends but the mountains". For most of the previous decade, the saying was just a saying, but once again, the
desire to gain independence and the reluctance of its neighbours and international powers to have an independent Kurdish
region, means that the prophecy has been fulfilled yet again.
In spite of these issues, there are still many IDPs and refugees who continue to need support in the region, especially
those who are staying in the colder areas. As a result, we have launched a new project called “Camping in the Cold.” The
idea is to raise funds to purchase winter necessities for refugee and displaced families in these camps during winter
(Dec- Feb). There are an average of 2 children under the age of 10 for every family in the camps. There are also a total
of about 42,968 IDP and refugee families in the Duhok Governorate camps, making a total of 85,936 children under the age
of 10 who will be living in freezing conditions during the Middle East winter.
Through our website, www.helpingkurdistan.org
, donors have the option of purchasing a variety of winter items to help out these families. Every item purchased will
be directly delivered to the camps, and the donors will be kept in touch throughout the whole process. With the help of
kind and giving people, we may just be able to raise enough funds to purchase winter necessities for displaced and
refugee families this Christmas.
Ashleigh Ali-Aziz is a PhD student, and Youth Development Coordinator at Auckland Resettled Community Coalition