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Expanding support for Syrian refugees in Iraq

Iraq, Syria, November 25, 2013

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  • Syrian children in Arbat camp, which was established in the Kurdish Autonomous region of northern Iraq to host the influx of Syrian refugees who have arrived in the last three months. Mercy Corps is now working here to build a playground and outfit spaces where kids can feel safe and begin to recover from the trauma of the war they just escaped. Photo: Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps' Syria Response team is now in Iraq, expanding our support to Syrian refugees who have sought safety in the northern region of the country. There are now about 200,000 Syrians living in camps and host communities there, and that number continues to grow.

In August, 10,000 Syrians escaped the civil war in their country by crossing over the Peshkhabour Bridge at the Tigris River — an area of the border previously closed — into the Kurdish Autonomous region of northern Iraq.

It was the largest number of Syrians to flee the country in a single day since the start of the conflict in 2011, and the flood of people seeking refuge through that border crossing has only increased. More than 60,000 arrived in August alone.

QUICK FACTS: What you need to know about the Syrian refugee crisis

As winter approaches, we’re distributing mattresses, kerosene and shelter materials to help families in tents and dilapidated structures withstand the cold, wet season.

And for the youngest refugees, we’re building a playground and outfitting child-friendly spaces with toys and furnishings in Arbat refugee camp to give kids safe places to cope with the trauma they’ve been through.

While we address these immediate needs, it's important to recognize that people will not be able to return to their homes — and jobs and educations — in Syria for quite some time. Our assessment in northern Iraq found that 90 percent of Syrian refugees lack savings or assets to withstand the pressures of indefinite displacement.

The Iraqi government was initially welcoming to refugees, offering them residency, healthcare and the right to work. But the recent influx of people streaming into the country has put a massive strain on its resources.

As housing and social services like medical care and education are stretched to their limit, tension between host communities and refugees is quickly increasing.

In this uncertain environment, we’re working to help Syrian refugees become more self-sufficient and restart their livelihoods by providing business skills training and emergency cash assistance to recently arrived refugee families.

Mercy Corps has been working in Iraq for over a decade, helping internally displaced families and supporting education, economic development and participatory government in the years during and after the Iraq war.

Now with war raging in neighboring Syria, we're focused on meeting the urgent needs of families who've left everything behind, while looking for new ways to alleviate the hardships on both Syrians and the Iraqi communities who are hosting them through this protracted crisis.

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