"I just want my husband to come back. We've already lost an uncle and two other family members in this war," said Hatice (name has been changed), a young mother, in November 2014 in Northern Iraq. The Yezidi lives in Berseve refugee camp not far from Zakho, a city near the Turkish-Iraqi border. She is one of the 1.5 million people who had to flee from the Islamic State (IS) militia during 2014. Many of them escaped with just the clothes they were wearing.
At first, most of the displaced and refugees stayed in makeshift shelters, schools, unfinished buildings or had to camp out in the open. By now, refugee camps have been set up that offer better protection against rain, snow or heat.
ASB has been intermittently active in Northern Iraq since 1991 and has implemented large-scale projects for refugees and the civilian population. The cooperation with the Directorate of Health (DoH) and the regional government has worked so well over the years that the DoH as well as the Kurdish Regional Government have asked ASB for help with the current refugee crisis.
In August 2014 and in cooperation with German medical aid organisation action medeor, ASB sent an initial so-called Emergency Health Kit to the Dohuk regional health authority. The Emergency Health Kit comprises enough medical supplies for 10,000 people for three months and was distributed to regional health units to ensure medical care for the population and the refugees alike.
Following an extremely hot summer with temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius in the shade, a cold winter usually sets in in November. With financial support from the German Federal Foreign Office, ASB embarked on a large-scale winterization programme. From October onwards, aid workers distributed stoves, fuel, warm blankets and winter clothing to those families most in need of help in refugee camps near Berseve. Camp Berseve I accommodates some 11,000 people and Berseve II more than 9,000. Both camps are filled to capacity.
The young mother from the Sinjar mountains is grateful for the help received: "We've been given most of what we need to survive. I also receive support from my parents-in-law whose tent is next to ours. Living in these tents is OK. But the girls need their father who is fighting the IS. I need my husband, and my parents-in-law want their son back safe and sound."
But people in the camps require not only material aid. Living in tents and under difficult hygiene conditions caused a steep increase in illness. In late 2014, ASB set up a health centre in Berseve I to improve basic medical care and, together with the local health department – the Directorate of Health – and funding from the German Federal Foreign Office, assumed responsibility for the medical care of refugees. In December, ASB distributed 2,500 aid packages containing soap, shower gel, washing powder, shampoo, disinfectant, nappies, toothbrushes, detergents and other hygiene products. Two distributions were supported by the Austrian aid organisation Nachbar in Not.
Supported by the German Federal Foreign Office, ASB organised additional courses in hygiene during December. Multipliers from within the ranks of the refugees were trained in order to achieve a more sustainable dissemination of information. This resulted in a significantly higher degree of acceptance by the target group. The hygiene teachers showed the families how to stay healthy within the difficult conditions of a refugee camp and how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Special attention was given to those with additional risk factors such as children and pregnant women.