An Israeli aid agency is set to up its deliveries of emergency supplies to Yazidi and Christian refugees of ISIS’s deadly military campaign in Iraq, as more evidence of the jihadist group’s atrocities begins to emerge.
More than 18,000 Yazidi and Christian refugees now live in makeshift camps in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, which is home to a total of around one million internally and externally displaced people. They are among more than 2.1 million people driven from their homes by ISIS since January 2014, bringing the total of people in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict to 5.2 million.
Residents of the camps, often made up of no more than tents, have faced extremely harsh conditions over this year’s freezing winter, and IsraAID has already provided 3,000 winter items to families in need – from blankets to baby milk.
But the aid agency says it is preparing to up its contributions due to the growing numbers of refugees enduring subzero temperatures, including infants and the elderly.
37-year-old Shehab and his family fled the Sinjar region after it was besieged by the jihadists, and managed to narrowly escape ISIS’s campaign of mass-killings and systematic rape.
Recent advances made by Kurdish forces against ISIS in the past few weeks have revealed shocking evidence of what the UN has branded an “attempt at genocide” by the so-called “Islamic State,” unearthing numerous mass graves containing the remains of men, women and children – likely Yazidis – murdered at the hands of the Islamist group.
“When Daesh (ISIS) entered Sinjar we fled to mountains for seven days and took refuge in a Yazidi temple,” Shehab recalled. “We then found our way to this camp. We have been here for seven months. I am here with my wife and our two children – a boy 1.5 years old and a 4 month year old baby girl who was born in the camp.
“The life here is very hard; our children are traumatized by what they saw and experienced after Daesh attacked our home.”
Naviah, another refugee from Sinjar, tells of the difficult conditions she and others face since arriving at the camp.
“Inside the camp it’s very cold and we really need warm blankets,” she said.
“Kerosene heaters were distributed [but] many tents caught fire and people died as a result. We use one bathroom between eight families – there are too many people and not enough room or facilities for everyone.”
“There is no school for the younger children.” Shehab laments. “Our main problem is carrying the water back to our tent – there is only one place in the camp to get water and it [is] very far. We also need health training and facilities for our families. Many people have diseases and there is no medicine or doctors”.
But IsraAID is working to improve that situation. Mid-October saw the Israeli group’s first aid delivery, and since then it has reached some 1,000 displaced families – an effort Naviah says is greatly appreciated, “especially [the] distribution of warm blankets for the winter.”
In the coming months, IsraAID looks to scale up its operation in Iraqi Kurdistan, handing out more winter aid packages and, for the first time, funding education programs for the camps’ child residents.
While grateful for the support, Shehab longs to return and hopes that one day things will return to how they once were.
“Before ISIS attacked our home we were living safely and completely free to go about our lives. My hope for the future is to return to my home and to live freely without fear.
“I hope for my children to be able to sleep without fear.”