Geneva/ Beirut, 12 August 2014 - The population movement in response to a surge in violence from armed groups has caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people across northern Iraq. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society is providing support where possible, but many of its volunteers in the disputed areas have also had to flee the violence. Meanwhile, thousands trapped in the Sinjar mountains are in desperate need of humanitarian aid and rescue.
Offensives by the armed group of the recently declared Islamic State into the Kurdistan border regions this past week have displaced up to 250,000 people, and many of those taking the road north have been forced to move a number of times. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society is prioritising on-the-road support for families and individuals and has so far provided water and food for more than 100,000 people.
Don Johnston, Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT) Leader for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that most of the families on the road had left their homes with almost nothing. “Thousands of people fled due to fear for their lives,” he said. “And so hundreds of thousands of Yazidis living in and around the communities of Sinjar and Zumar have fled north into the Duhok region of Kurdistan.”
Johnston said the human tide was inching slowly towards relative safety across the Tigris River at Fishkhabur. “Behind them the line of displaced families stretches to the horizon, and in front of them is an uncertain future. Having found safe harbour on the other side of the bridge, thousands of families wait on the side of the road, exhausted, unsure of where to go or what to do. Their plan had only extended as far as getting to safety.”
While many will find a place to stay with relatives, the influx of thousands of people has put a massive stress on an already stretched local infrastructure. There is limited support available from the Kurdish government and through the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. Also the ICRC and French Red Cross are looking to provide assistance to the Yazidi communities in the towns of Khanke and Sharya which have seen their population grow from from 12,000 to over 60,000 in just a few days. The Iraqi Red Cresecent Society has prioritized the distribution of blankets, mattresses, food parcels and kitchen sets, but current funding levels will not stretch to assisting every family that needs help.
There is also great concern for the many thousands trapped in the Sinjar mountains. Johnston said conditions in the mountains are already bad, but are likely to get worse. “Temperatures are well over 44 degrees, and there is little water, shelter or food. We are getting reports that many children and elderly people are dying,” he said. “50 children died yesterday.”
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society has managed to deliver medical aid, food, and water by air to those trapped on the mountain, but longer term support and humanitarian access will be vital in the coming weeks.
The IFRC is appealing for 6.4 million Swiss francs in cash, kind or services to help support the Iraqi Red Crescent Society meet the needs of 180,000 people for six months.
For more information or to arrange for interviews, please contact:
- Raefah Makki, senior communications officer, IFRC Beirut
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- Reeni Amin Chua, communications officer, IFRC Geneva
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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 million people each year through its 189 member National Societies. Together, the IFRC acts before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people. It does so with impartiality as to nationality, race, gender, religious beliefs, class and political opinions. For more information, please visit www.ifrc.org. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.