In Iraq, the Unseen Refugees of the Syria Crisis

Francine-blog-headFrancine Uenuma, Director Media Relations and

Domiz, Iraq

June 2013

Children are everywhere in Domiz camp, a hot patch of land
near the Syrian border in northern Iraq where more than 40,000 people eke out
their existence in a space designed for only a quarter of that number. We saw
them before we even arrived, running alongside our car, selling gum, trying to
earn a little money.

This crowded camp, which is where many families have taken
refuge from the violence that has wreaked havoc on homes, livelihoods and lives
in Syria, is now where many families find themselves in limbo – unable to
return to Syria, trying to find odd jobs and pass the weeks and months. The
Kurdistan Regional Government manages the camp, which has schools and a small
medical clinic, but the number of refugees strains those resources and many
live in flimsy plastic tarps that blow over when a windstorm comes through.
There are mounds of garbage, and sewage runs down walkways in between the
makeshift dwellings.

Sebastian Meyer/Getty Images for Save the Children
It’s hard for me to imagine the shock those who dwell here
have experienced – leaving their homes, jobs, communities and schools – and
beginning a new life of uncertainty and daily hardship. That is reality for 1.5
million Syrians, a number that is hard to fathom when you speak to just one
family and hear what have been through. And what is most difficult to grasp is
that these families are – in a relative sense – the fortunate ones, with
millions more inside Syria subject to violence, food shortages and a medical
and educational infrastructure that has become unrecognizable in more than two
years of fighting.

On the day of our visit, Aras, a father of six children, is
out in the midday sun trying to rebuild the tent where he and his wife and 6
children live. Two of them are in the hospital, he says, so we meet Rebaz*, 5,
Govand, 4, Harem 3, and little Shalha, 1. Health problems – rashes, diarrhea –
are a problem here, and expected to worsen as the summer months grow more
unrelentingly hot. We go inside their tent, where the boys play amidst the pots
and pans and cans that make up a small makeshift kitchen in one corner.

The children who live in tents nearby are curious – as we take
photos we show them their images on our phones and camera. Several boys pose
repeatedly, smiling proudly at each new image of themselves, or with their
friends or siblings.

Aras tells us the tent they now call home was damaged in a strong
windstorm that completely wiped out nearby  families’ homes. His is still
standing, but many families have had to rely on the good graces of others as
they wait for a replacement tent, their dwellings reduced to a pile of plastic
by the strong winds.

Several people gather to talk to us, one man emphatically
says what he needs for his family – “no car, no money, just home — one home!”

Before leaving we walk through rows of tents of the newer
arrivals – those who came later to a camp built originally for only 10,000. We
meet two-month-old baby Banaz*, who was born one month
before her family fled the violence in Syria, completing the last leg of their
journey into Iraq on foot with what belongings they could carry. They don’t
know what the future holds for them – right now life is about the day to day,
trying to find work, cleaning and maintaining their small sliver of space, and
raising their small infant and two-year-old daughter in a world of painful


*Names have been changed for privacy


How You Can Help

Your gift to Save the Children’s Syria Children in Crisis Fund
will help provide immediate and on-going support to displaced Syrian children
and their family members in refugee camps throughout the region. Your funds
will help us provide comprehensive relief to these families that includes
shelter, health, child protection and educational needs.  Donate Here.