Help for refugees in Jordan is focused almost exclusively on Syrians. Researchers Izza Leghtas and Dina Baslan make a plea for Yemenis, Somalis, and Sudanese not to be forgotten.
On April 24, 2018, Refugees International hosted its 39th Anniversary Dinner, honoring humanitarians who work to improve the lives and protect the rights of refugees and displaced people in the United States and worldwide. This year’s event honored Chobani Founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Hala al-Sarraf, executive director of the Iraq Health Access Organization.
This month marks the three-year anniversary of the withdrawal of an 11,000-strong Peshmerga force from Sinjar in northern Iraq. The withdrawal left Sinjar’s Yazidi minority community besieged by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters. For one displaced Yazidi family with whom I recently met in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, there is both reason to grieve and to celebrate. The head of family told me that dozens of extended family members were kidnapped by ISIS during the siege. But this anniversary also marks the first that his now 15-year-old daughter, Vian,* is home.
In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), a dusty camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) houses about 5,000 Iraqis, many of whom fled the Islamic State (ISIS) when the extremist group seized control of their villages in northern Iraq. In its attack on Sinjar during the summer of 2014, ISIS murdered or abducted thousands—and to this day, survivors do not know the fate of family members who disappeared in the ISIS assault. Many of the people who were able to avoid or escape the Sinjar massacre had come to Iraqi Kurdistan for safety.
While anticipation of the Mosul offensive continues to build – along with concern about the consequent displacement that could overwhelm nearby areas – the reality is that Mosul’s military offensive and displacement crisis started some time ago. In the past several months, more than 100,000 people have fled the areas around Qayyara and Shirqat, two towns taken by Iraqi fighting forces as part of the military approach to Mosul itself.
At its height in mid-2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) controlled more than 40 percent of Iraq. Now, a counter-offensive by the Iraqi Army, pro-government militias, and allied nations has pushed ISIS out of many areas it once held. This has given a glimmer of hope to Iraq’s 3.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs): after years of exile, they have a chance to return home. Refugees International visited a town in Anbar province where returning families spoke about the challenges of rebuilding their homes, their lives, and their community.
The huge number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq – and the possibility that by the end of the year there could be two million more – has recently recaptured some attention in the news. In early May, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, declared the humanitarian crisis in Iraq to be “one of the world’s worst”, and the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016 from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre included the fact that over half of the global total of IDPs reside in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq alone.
Over the course of the past decade, millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes. Prior to 2014, approximately one million Iraqis were internally displaced, mostly due to the sectarian conflict of 2006 – 2008. Since January 2014, millions more have been uprooted by government-militant violence and the advance of the group known as the Islamic State or ISIS.
The conflict that began in Syria in March 2011 has now endured through four winters, with a fifth one on the way. If it seems too early to be thinking about preparing the displaced for winter, consider that each of the past four winters in the region has been greeted with insufficient planning, funding shortfalls, and program cuts. It shouldn’t be possible that winter takes us by surprise— winter arrives whether there’s a displacement crisis or not
With so many humanitarian crises around the world, priority humanitarian and peacekeeping accounts need increased support from Congress now more than ever. This includes the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) and the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) humanitarian accounts, along with the core peacekeeping accounts including Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and Contributions for International Peacekeeping (CIPA).
Since the war in Syria began four years ago, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. The Kurdistan Regional Government, the United Nations, and international and local humanitarian agencies have all done what they can to help people survive. But as their time in Iraq grows longer, many of the Syrians are running out of money, no longer have personal belongings to sell, and are continuing to incur debt. Although some refugee camps do exist in the region, many families prefer not to stay in them. As a result, many are becoming so desperate that they end up living on the streets.
Last month’s advance by the militant Islamic State group (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in northern Iraq forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes - including the Yazidi minority of Sinjar. Many of those newly displaced made their way to Erbil, Iraq, where they joined tens of thousands of Syrian refugees already seeking shelter in the city. There, they are struggling to get by. Aid agencies are working hard to locate the new arrivals who are living scattered across the city. The displaced often arrive not knowing where to go for help. Some find refuge with family members or friends, but others simply have no option but to settle in one of the city’s public spaces. Many of them lack food, water, and healthcare, and are living in makeshift shelters and unfinished buildings dangerously exposed to the elements, even as winter rapidly approaches.
Friends of Refugees International gathered for the 3rd Annual Chicago Circle at the Arts Club of Chicago on November 14, 2013. The evening featured Kirk W. Johnson – founder of The List Project and author of To Be A Friend Is Fatal. RI staff also shared their experiences working on the crisis in Syria, with a special focus on the challenges women and girls are facing as a result of the conflict.