Iraq: Communities and aid groups respond to Sinjar emergency

12 August, 2014
August 2014, Erbil, Iraq: Eman Naci (centre), a team leader for the NGO Qandil, helps register people arriving in Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital. Thousands of people have arrived here in recent days, fleeing violence in the north of the country. Credit: OCHA/David Swanson
August 2014, Erbil, Iraq: Eman Naci (centre), a team leader for the NGO Qandil, helps register people arriving in Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital. Thousands of people have arrived here in recent days, fleeing violence in the north of the country. Credit: OCHA/David Swanson

Aid agencies and residents are helping thousands of people who have arrived in the city of Erbil in recent days, fleeing the advancing forces of the Islamic State. These people have fled their homes and land in Sinjar and the Ninewa Plains near the border with Syria.

"Everyone has left, including the Muslims,” said Elias Bahaa, 25, a computer technician and web designer. Elias fled Bashika, a largely Yazidi town of some 5,000 inhabitants 15km north of Mosul in Iraq’s northern Ninewa Governorate, said. “Everyone is afraid.”

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 15,000 people have fled to the Kurdish regional capital in recent days – many of them ethnic Yazidis or Iraqi Christians - with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

Sheltering in churches, schools and parks

Many are now sheltering in churches, schools, parks and unfinished buildings where they are receiving assistance from local families and community groups, NGOs and the UN. Erbil authorities have started to establish a camp in the city suburbs and refurbish a transit centre outside the city.

“Some people have been travelling for days without water,” said Eman Naci, a team leader for Qandil, an international NGO that is partnering with UNHCR to register new arrivals at the Sami Abdul Rahman Park. “These people need help.”

At least 1.2 million displaced

The situation in Erbil is a microcosm of the humanitarian crisis sweeping across northern Iraq. More than 1.2 million people have been displaced since January, including an estimated 650,000 people when Mosul was seized by Islamic State fighters in June.

The continued advance of these armed groups since the start of August has seen more and more families fleeing their homes in panic. Packed into cars, they move from town to town in a desperate bid to reach safety.

Urgent need for water, food, shelter and medicines

In Erbil, as in towns across neighbouring Dahok Governorate, people have been relying on the kindness of families and strangers alike, as well as aid efforts coordinated by the Iraqi Government and Kurdish authorities with the support of the international aid community.

The recent arrivals to Erbil come on top of the almost 200,000 people who, since 3 August, have fled to Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region or to disputed areas along the border with Syria, in urgent need of life-saving assistance, including water, food, shelter and medicine.

At the same time, thousands of men, women and children remain trapped on Sinjar Mountain surrounded by Islamic State forces, although thousands more have managed to escape and make their way to Dahuk where they are now receiving life-saving assistance.

Prior to the most recent influx, the Government of Kurdistan had been supporting more than 300,000 internally displaced persons along with 230,000 Syrian refugees. Authorities will now need additional international support.

Read more about the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Iraq on the UN News Centre.