Christmas in Iraq (Day 3-4): Camps Karamles & Emila

CGR

Fri Dec 25 2015 15:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

KURDISTAN - Many of us assumed the refugee camps were tent cities in the countryside, but instead they’re located throughout the city, anywhere refugee families can live. The various government levels have been overwhelmed by the scale of refugees, with many of the 500,000 who left Mosul alone primarily moving eastward.

KURDISTAN - Many of us assumed the refugee camps were tent cities in the countryside, but instead they’re located throughout the city, anywhere refugee families can live. The various government levels have been overwhelmed by the scale of refugees, with many of the 500,000 who left Mosul alone primarily moving eastward.

Series Introduction: A couple teams of Canadians are visiting the Middle East this Christmas. Their purpose is to bring hope and joy during the holiday season to refugees and internally displaced people living or in transit in Jordan and Northern Iraq. Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well as many other minority groups such as the Yazidi have been displaced by the war that began back in 2011.

Today we visited Camp Karamles, named after the families who fled the town located less than 30 kilometres south east of Mosul. One of our locals gave P a hat that says in Arabic, “I’m an Iraqi and proud of it!” This solidarity runs throughout our team as we interact and hear the stories of locals.

One refugee lady shared with us that their own unity has grown as well over the past year: “People’s differences are put aside because they’ve all experienced the same suffering and pain. They want to work together to improve their situations. Regardless of religion or place of origin, we are together.”

It’s also a difficult place for the 80 kids and youth to grow up in. L shares Maria’s story from today, “She doesn’t know what to do with her dreams. Maria is learning English in school and wants to be a teacher, but she can’t do that. There’s no schooling left, so she can’t pursue her dreams.” S found out that, “Only some kids can attend school. They have to pay for supplies, uniform, bus, and books. Most families can’t afford schooling, and for those who are able to can’t send all the kids so they have to pick one or two.”

It became important for us to try to make sure those who were on the sidelines were participating, especially as the quieter children also tend to get pushed away in larger groups. The game “Duck-Duck-Goose” became a hit in “Hummus-Hummus-Shawarma!” X was encouraged in seeing the young girls feeling more confident in themselves as they, “Really enjoyed nail-painting and fashioning bracelets. To help with distribution, we had groups of three share a nail polish bottle. Their smiles were contagious!”

The next morning we visited Camp Emila, which means “hope” in Arabic. Cold concrete, bare walls, no heat, and communal bathrooms with squatty-potties showed how living quarters had to be set up quickly to accommodate the migration—here alone we helped create activities for 300 children. We could see how various government levels have been overwhelmed by the scale of refugees.

The man in charge, a veterinarian and refugee himself, oversees six camps with 2000 people. He was helpful in translate for us, and at the end of the morning program we distributed the gift bags we’d packed Sunday night for the children.

A group of Iraqi young adults who started to hang out with us helped, feeling included and identifying with a sense of ownership over the initiatives such as in the soccer games. We treated them to kebobs, hummus and couscous for lunch, which are staple foods in markets and cafés.

Two girls, ages 19 and 16, shared they were out of school. Perhaps forever, as they fled Mosul last year from Daesh and had few options to continue their education. The father shared, “She’ll just stay home and hope that someone marries her.” Many of the locals laughed, seemingly because this was a common reality and humour was the only way to convey the truth of the situation. P shares that this moment made him sad and reflect that, “In Canada a motivated person can continue their education, but that’s not true here.”

That afternoon we returned to the same camp, this time to give out diapers, milk for kids, shampoo, and more to families. Our team observed how difficult it must be for the men and women who had jobs before they fled—most of them now have little to do but stay in their tiny rooms. They’ve been this way for sixteen months.

In the late afternoon, our team split up, some to replenish gifts for our Christmas activities the following day, and others to build relationships and hear the stories of refugees staying in an apartment building that houses 27 families. Our extra gifts of the morning were distributed to families temporarily renting the apartment.

Last year, roughly half of these families somehow found refuge in a small church building the size of a local Tim Hortons when they fled from Mosul and the surrounding areas. Pews were moved to create makeshift “rooms” for each family. They lived there for four months, with great inconvenience.

Each one of the refugee’s stories resonates with tremendous perseverance and resilience amidst suffering. We’ve all read stories such as theirs in the abstract of newspapers and television, but these are now our dear friends who we share meals and life together.

More of these stories will be shared in person, and in videos we are preparing. We look forward to providing further advocacy not only in word, but in providing for their immediate needs. Thank you for journeying with us as we continue Christmas in Iraq!

Thank you for your generosity in partnering with CGR in making a difference in the lives of many Syrian and Iraqi refugees by providing advocacy, basic needs to families, and education to refugee children.