Currently JRS is engaged in a needs assessment and the initial provision of psychosocial support to displaced Iraqis and Syrians residing in Ankawa, a neighborhood of Erbil.
Home visits are already underway, allowing us to better understand families' needs and establish relationships with the community. Though accompaniment, JRS is able to not only know the exact needs of the families we assist, but is also able to foster a community spirit.
Many families are living in informal tented settlements, unfinished shopping malls and apartment blocks. Pre-fabricated campers are being set up to provide improved shelter for the winter months and to serve as schools or psychosocial centers. These settlements are supported or assisted by international non-governmental organizations, mosques, churches, local organizations and communities; everyone has contributed something in some way to help provide support.
"Crossing the border was unforgettable. There were thousands of cars in one big traffic jam heading north on the highway, the twinkling of taillights shining in the night," said Riyad* as he shared the story of his family's journey.
"It was dark, the air was hot and there was a sand storm that raged the whole night. It was as if the world was punishing us. We were forced to abandon our cars at the border to Kurdistan," he said.
"We were all huddled in the back of my truck that I normally use for transporting the animals for my veterinary work. It was humiliating to put my children, nieces, nephews and my mother in the back of the truck, but what could we do? We had to leave immediately."
Riyad and his family fled from their small hometown in the northeast of Iraq as the the Islamic State advanced in August 2014. By profession Riyad is a veterinarian, his father a pharmacist.
Today Riyad lives in a tent with his family in Erbil; his home, garden and veterinary surgery mere memories left behind on the trail of trauma that has swept across the Middle East in the past three years.
Riyad's story is one of millions that all speak of the same loss, fear and uncertainty that hound the thoughts of displaced Iraqis and Syrians. Forced to flee from the Islamic State during the summer months, many people left with only a few hours warning, some were “lucky” to have a few days advance warning.
However, as winter approaches, temperatures are set to drop to below freezing, heavy rain and snowfall are likely and many people are without adequate clothing or shelter for the winter.
Aid agencies are making an urgent appeal for winterization assistance before December. If assistance only arrives in December or January, for many outlying areas in Kurdistan it will be too late to get vital assistance to people living in informal camps or small towns in the countryside. The snow and mountainous terrain will mean that they will be cut off from Erbil or other accessible roads.
"The reality is that many children may die this winter, the shelter provided is simply not adequate. It is estimated that 60% of the displaced population in Kurdistan are under 15 years of age," says a Cordaid staff member.
* Name changed for security reasons.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is one of ten Regions of an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
To accompany means to be a companion. We are companions of Jesus, so we wish to be companions of those with whom he preferred to be associated, the poor and the outcast. JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. JRS advocates for just and generous policies and programs for the benefit of victims of forced displacement, so that those made vulnerable by exile can receive support and protection and durable solution to their plight can be achieved.
JRS/USA witnesses to God’s presence in vulnerable and often forgotten people driven from their homes by conflict, natural disaster, economic injustice, or violation of their human rights.
As one of the ten geographic regions of Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS/USA serves as the major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad. Through our advocacy and fund raising efforts, JRS/USA provides support for the work of JRS throughout the world.
JRS/USA gives help, hope, ear and voice to vulnerable people on the move by being present to and bearing witness to their plight; by relieving their human suffering and restoring hope; by addressing the root causes of their displacement and improving international responses to refugee situations.
In addition, JRS/USA inspires the Ignatian family and others to respond together to the needs of refugees and displaced persons worldwide and forges strong partnerships with like-minded institutions and agencies devoted to the cause of refugees and displaced persons.
JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of approximately 950,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.
Approximately 280,000 children, young people and adults receive primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services each year. JRS places the highest priority on ensuring a better future for refugees by investing heavily in education and training. Further, JRS undertakes advocacy to ensure all displaced children be provided with access to quality education. JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.