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29 Jul 2014

Save the Children - “More Families Come Everyday”

  • Tuesday, 29 July 2014
To most people this would just be a warehouse with its dusty raw concrete floor, flickering fluorescent lamps and sunlight barely making it through the narrow windows below the ceiling. But to 32 Iraqi families, this is home. Fleeing to save their lives, they are now a part of the estimated 1.2 million people that have been displaced by the fighting in Iraq.

As I step inside the warehouse the hot stifling air hits my face. A few children look curiously in my direction; most are exhausted by the sweltering heat and look debilitated when you catch their eyes. Families lie between the small pop up tents on blankets and thin mattresses. Some are sleeping, others are quietly talking to the neighbouring family. A couple of air coolers are trying their best to cool down the big open room, but are failing miserably. The warehouse lies in a small village in Khanaqeen, the main district in the extremely volatile province of Diyala. Only a 45-minute drive from the frontlines where daily fighting continues to send families on the run, the warehouse and the camp around it offers the safety that is so desperately needed. But little else than that. Hundreds of small tents are set up around the warehouse on the outskirts of a small village that has opened its doors to the newly displaced. Around 4,500 people have settled here. 

The first families arrived almost 6 weeks ago; the leader of the village tells me. The villagers next to the warehouse decided to support the best they could and started to cook food for the displaced every day. It wasn’t much, but it kept people alive. It wasn’t just a few families that arrived though. And as more kept coming the village struggled to keep up, “More families come every day” as the village leader kept repeating. And they are not alone. Before ending up in the warehouse I visited the local football stadium and a school closed for summer – both now home for hundreds of families each. Both supported by the local community and aid organizations like Save the Children.

And on a grass field outside far from any villages a new camp is being set up to host thousands of people. Having started construction only days ago, only the tents have been set up. But with many families still arriving and other locations out of space they have no other choice than to move in to what isn’t a real camp yet. No latrines, very little water and no food. Just the tents. As we stood there more people arrived, only to find nothing but an empty space where there would soon be a tent. Until then they will have to find shelter with other families or live under the open sky. Save the Children is installing latrines as I write this and will be setting up the first Child Friendly Space in the coming day or two to restore a bit a normalcy in the lives of children that had their daily life turned upside down. 

Save the Children has worked in this area for 6 years, a presence that allowed us to quickly respond to the sudden influx of families a month ago. Distributions of food and hygiene kits to thousands of people; the first of several child friendly spaces up and running, latrines and showers being installed to keep families safe and sound and distributions of water when and where needed.

Leaving Khanaqeen and driving back north into the mountainous region of Iraqi Kurdistan the car pass by a continuous stream of pickup trucks and small cars with families huddled together. Forced from their home, in search for a safe place to spend this night and, it seems, many to come. 
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