Syrian families from Kobane find safety in Iraq

Iraq, Syria

October 28, 2014

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  • 13 year-old Reem and her mother receive water and a hygiene kit from the Mercy Corps team at Arbat camp in Iraq. Photos: Mercy Corps staff

In the northern Syrian city of Kobane, just miles from the country’s border with Turkey, the past month of intense fighting between militants and Kurdish forces has driven more than 130,000 people from their homes.

Many ran across the border into Turkey, but now some Syrian families have made the long and treacherous journey to Iraq’s Arbat refugee camp, near the city of Sulaymaniyah. There, the Mercy Corps team was able to provide desperately-needed supplies to the new refugees.

Mercy Corps works with more than 100 local partners across Iraq, and we preposition kits in areas where displaced people are settling so that we can meet their immediate needs when they arrive with nothing.

Reem and her mother with the water and hygiene kit they received from Mercy Corps.

Reem, 13, and her mother received the bottled drinking water and hygiene kit that included basic necessities like soap, a bucket for washing, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Most people who arrived at Arbat camp from Kobane, like Reem, had only the clothes on their backs and received little or no assistance during the 500-mile journey to Iraq.

For Reem and her mother, the water and necessities that they received with their tent will help them adjust to the difficulties of being refugees far from home. For many Syrian families at our emergency supplies distribution, this isn’t the first time they’ve fled for safer ground.

Mustafa has had to move his family several times since the war in Syria started.

Mustafa, 60, has moved his family again and again since the war in Syria began more than three and a half years ago. Originally from Kobane, Mustafa built a successful export business in Aleppo and lived there for many years. He warmly remembered his family’s home just north of the city and the garden that grew 42 different kinds of flowers.

After the war began, Mustafa’s neighborhood became unsafe so he moved his family into central Aleppo for safety. It was only a year before they had to move once more — this time, back to Kobane to live with extended family. Each time they moved, Mustafa remembered telling his family “I am taking you to a better place.”

Mustafa speaks with a Mercy Corps team member in his tent at Arbat camp.

Mustafa fled Kobane in late September with his grandchildren — they had only 30 minutes to get out of the city. They made it to Arbat camp in Iraq, and now Mustafa has hopes of reuniting with his wife and older children, who moved earlier in the year. The family is spread out across northern Iraq, but they hope to reunite and be together again in Erbil.

The next challenge that both Syrian refugees and recently-displaced Iraqis face is a harsh winter. In just the past few weeks, temperatures in Iraq have dropped sharply from 90 degrees to somewhere in the 40s, and colder nights are just around the corner.

Two young Syrian boys shelter inside their family's small tent.

Already, hard rains, cold winds and even hail have started bombarding Arbat camp. The thin tents offer little protection from the elements and most families were unable to bring blankets or warm clothing with them when they fled their homes.

In addition to distributing emergency supplies, our team is working across northern Iraq to provide vouchers and cash that help families purchase items like bedding and jackets in preparation for the cold months ahead.

This model gives vulnerable families the chance to choose what they need most, while also supporting the local economy.