This is the time of year when people all over the world prepare for Christmas, the season of peace and goodwill. A time when families and friends come together to celebrate. But the harsh reality is that this festive season more than 70 million people across the globe will be far from home, displaced due to conflict and natural disaster.
A GOAL team has been working in Gawilan Refugee Camp, close to Ebril in the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) near the Syrian border, providing emergency relief to over 2,000 new arrivals who fled Northeast Syria following the launch of Operation Peace Spring in early October.
Since then almost 18,000 Syrians have escaped the conflict by crossing the border in the KIR. Many left in a hurry, packing only a few key items and their most valuable belongings. The majority of those who fled have been hosted in refugee camps. Because they have travelled light, they lack the most basic items such as clothing, personal hygiene products and cleaning materials. Most of the people we spoke to expected to be returning home soon.
Gawilan Camp, one of the main refugee camps, has been in operation since 2013. However, it was not prepared for the sudden arrival of the 2,000 new inhabitants following the launch of Operation Peace Spring. The Turkish offensive created an unexpected crisis for the whole KRI.
Emergency sites were erected in a hurry in all the existing camps with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), together with national and international NGOs, providing the basic needs in these newly established campsites.
GOAL has contributed to this emergency relief effort under the Irish Aid Emergency Response Fund Scheme (ERFS) which supports humanitarian response during the initial weeks after the onset of an emergency.
In its two-tiered response GOAL built 50 latrines and showers in a new emergency site within Gawilan camp, targeting 50 families, at the end of October. GOAL was the first NGOs ready to build these basic sanitation facilities.
GOAL Emergency Team Leader, Omar Adel Sharafani,, said: “When we arrived in the camp there was nothing there. The closest sanitary facilities were around 0.7 KM walking distance from the emergency camp. The road there is either dusty or muddy, depending on the weather, and at night there are no lights. We cannot expect people to walk that far just to go to a toilet. People used public spaces as toilets, creating undignified scenes and risks for several diseases.
We worked for three days, day and night, to build the first latrines in the newly erected emergency site.”
In the second phase of the response GOAL this week distributed almost 400 sanitation kits to the people in this emergency campsite. The kits contain the most basic items such as a broom, plastic gloves, detergent powder and multipurpose cleaning liquid.
“These items seem basic, but they prevent the outbreak of nasty diseases like scabies. However simple the action may seem, by supporting the people in meeting their basic hygiene needs, we can prevent a lot of suffering and restore basic human dignity”, Omar explains.
This was the first time in Iraq that GOAL distributed emergency items as normally its projects are focused on development, rather than on emergency relief.
Says Omar: “This was a new experience for us, but it went well. The distribution was well-managed and in close cooperation with the government and the UNHCR. We reached almost all the people in the camp and we are confident we made a difference this day, however small it may seem”.