Families on the run in Iraq: How our team is helping


August 15, 2014

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  • Mercy Corps staff hand out hygiene kits to Yazidi families who fled recent attacks in the Sinjar mountain region. Photo: Mercy Corps

Latest updates on the humanitarian crisis

The most recent rash of violence in the Sinjar area of Iraq has forced 200,000 more people to flee for safety, including thousands of families who were trapped hiding in the mountains for nearly a week.

Many displaced families are staying in crowded homes in urban host communities or have taken shelter in public schools and mosques. Others are in transit or living in makeshift displacement sites that have been established in more rural areas.

Waves of fighting in Iraq since January have left a total of 1.4 million people displaced and on the run. As the insurgent conflict continues to spread through Iraq, the humanitarian consequences of such a massive displacement of people are mounting.

“It is a very tough environment at the moment," said Helen Tirebuck, Mercy Corps' Director of Emergency in Iraq. "There is a real sense of fear amongst those displaced causing people to move from one location to the next in search of safety as new areas are attacked. We need to be fast and nimble to reach this mobile population.”

Most people only have what they can carry with them from place to place, and shelter, food, water and fuel are increasingly hard to come by.

Whether they are currently sheltering in urban areas, in abandoned buildings, or out in the open in more remote regions, it’s common for families to move several times based on access to supplies and where fighting has broken out.

What our team is doing to help

Mercy Corps team members have been working through the conflict to continue deliveries of essential hygiene items that will help families on the move get through the crisis.

SEE PHOTOS: Emergency supplies help displaced families ▸

Among those forced to flee the fighting this week were tens of thousands of people from the isolated Yazidi minority group, who live in the mountains of Sinjar.

People from the Sinjar region sign up to receive Mercy Corps hygiene kits, which will help them survive being displaced and on-the-run. Photo: Mercy Corps

When people from the Yazidi group, which has historically been marginalized in Iraq, fled recent attacks, our team acted quickly and provided 660 hygiene kits to families who were in transit and looking for a safe place to stay.

We also began distributing emergency food packages this week in Kirkuk that will help 2,200 displaced people survive the ongoing conflict.

What’s next?

With fighting continuing in almost all regions of Iraq, our team is always looking for new ways to help displaced populations survive the risks and uncertainties in the months ahead.

The hot summer temperatures combined with unsanitary living conditions and lack of access to proper hygiene can quickly turn into an outbreak of communicable disease, so we are ramping up efforts to address water and sanitation needs at displacement sites.

We'll also distribute cash so families can buy the essentials they need; for people on the move, traveling through towns and cities, money can be more valuable than receiving items that they have to carry with them.

With cash in hand, families can determine what they need most and purchase smaller amounts of supplies, allowing them to stay mobile.

Our team will continue to deliver essential supplies to struggling families in Iraq, and we are actively monitoring the changing humanitarian situation on a day-to-day basis.

“This is a historic moment for Iraq and what happens in the next few months in response to the crisis will be extremely important," said Steve Claborne, Mercy Corps' country director in Iraq. "This is an opportunity that the international community cannot miss and we must recommit efforts to help Iraqi people make the huge transition to a more stable, peaceful and prosperous country.”