Mark Bradshaw is War Child UK’s Programme Development Coordinator for Asia/Middle East. He visited Erbil this month to help our team there start a project and assist in identifying children's needs across the region.
It’s only been a few weeks since the extreme IS violence displaced hundreds of thousands of families across Iraq.
Many fled to the relative calm of the Kurdistan region in the north but as international attention begins to shift away from this humanitarian disaster, War Child UK continues to find children in urgent need of food, water, shelter and protection.
“Life here is like a prison.”
Some now live in camps run by the UN; housed in basic tents exposed to the harsh summer sun.
Others use what little money they have to rent rooms, the rest simply squat in unfinished buildings, churches and gardens.
Erbil city has more than 4,000 families living in temporary shelters; reliant on goodwill for food and water.
As one man said to us: “Life here is like a prison.”
Education and trauma support
Despite a significant humanitarian response from around the world, the sheer number of families displaced has overwhelmed aid efforts. The Kurdistan region was already home to over 200,000 Syrian refugees.
One mother told how her children had witnessed unspeakable terror in their home town of Fallujah. So they left; walking more than 230 miles in sweltering 40-degree heat to get to Erbil.
They have some food and shelter but education and long term psychosocial care and support are essential if these children are to recover.
Wait to be children again
The small number of schools with places available teach in Kurdish. Arabic speaking children are excluded.
So they wait. Wait for normality to return.
Wait to be children again.
One child kept repeating the same question to me “When can I go home?”
Mothers ration what little food they have. Fathers search for work as day labourers. They are frustrated, hopeless and angry that so little help has reached them.
Child rights specialists
The children in Erbil have had their childhood torn away by the violence they’ve seen.
Their communities have been fractured, family members have been killed or subjected to extreme abuse.
We’ve established a team of child rights specialists, including social workers, in Erbil to respond to the situation.
Earlier this week we opened child friendly spaces across Erbil governorate to offer children a place to be children.
Boys and girls can safely interact, learn and play. Many will also receive psychosocial support.
How you can help
Hundreds will receive our support over the next few months, but there are thousands more we cannot reach yet.
They need our help. We need yours.
Please help us to reach more displaced children in Iraq by setting up a regular gift or donating to War Child today.