Since the beginning of the year, 1.3 million Iraqis have fled fighting in the north and west of the country. More than 400,000 traveled to Kurdistan—“one of the relatively few stable areas in the region at the moment,” says Benedetta Di Cintio, Handicap International’s head of mission in Iraq. They join more than 200,000 Syrians seeking refuge there.
At the beginning of 2014, Iraqis were able to rent vacant properties in Kurdistan, live with relatives, or join Kurdish families with extra room. Others found shelter in camps capable of absorbing new arrivals.
Today, local communities are far beyond capacity. “The fighting intensified in early August,” Di Cintio explains. “On just one day, about 15,000 people arrived in the city of Erbil. People took shelter where they could—on every street corner, in mosques, churches, and buildings under construction. They were all around our operational base.
“It’s an extremely complicated situation for everyone. This situation affects every area of daily life. The new school year will probably be delayed, because virtually all schools have been turned into shelters. Lots of camps are being set up to cope with the situation, but for the moment people are just getting by as best they can.”
Problems accessing care for the most vulnerable people
Quality medical care is available free of charge in the Dohuk and Erbil governorates, where Handicap International’s teams operate. Unfortunately, displaced people, particularly the most vulnerable, often find it hard to access these services, and says the situation has deteriorated since August.
“The people who have been arriving over the last few weeks have fled almost empty-handed, and when they get here they find it very difficult to find their way around,” she says. “We had to work very hard to relocate some of the people we had been caring for, and who had to leave again when the fighting moved closer.
“Sometimes, in this sort of situation, diabetics, for example, can find it impossible get hold of insulin, which has an irreversible, even fatal, impact on their health.
“We are trying to build a bridge between the most vulnerable people, particularly people with disabilities and people with chronic diseases, and the available health services. All displaced people find themselves in a difficult situation. We target people who, like everyone else, need to find shelter, and access water and food, but who, on top of all that, have to cope with additional problems, frequently because they have a disability or a chronic disease, or they’ve been separated from their family or someone who was caring for them.
“We’re working to ensure that their situation doesn’t get any worse than it is already because they can’t access care, medication, and the technical aids they need, like wheelchairs, walking aids, or hygiene kits. Some of the people we are assisting need physical therapy sessions, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, insulin, and suddenly find themselves cut off from these services. It’s essential to help them access this care again as quickly as possible.”