ShelterBox staff member Michael Johns has been on deployment in Iraqi Kurdistan following the recent influx of Syrian refugees into the country. He shares his thoughts after visiting a school that accommodated a reported total of 1,100 men, women and children, set up at Qushtapa refugee camp in the region of Irbil:
‘We entered the school through the front gate to find a playground lined around the edges with ramshackle awnings rigged by the refugees to provide shelter from the sun – mostly blankets tied to the wall at the back and, in front, to water tanks or anything else they could find. With little to do families were lying or sitting on rugs and cushions under the awnings. Some others were in small groups, talking or just getting out of the sun, which in the week since we arrived has kept the daytime temperature in the forties. Visitors such as ourselves are something of a novelty, and we soon attracted attention from a number of curious people.
‘One of them was Kamal, a schoolteacher who spoke English. He wanted to know how soon the refugees were going to move into the nearby Qushtapa camp. We were able to reassure him that work on preparation of the camp had been proceeding rapidly, and that it was better to ensure the camp services were ready than to move the refugees in prematurely, making it harder to complete the remaining services.
‘Kamal acted as our interpreter and guide, taking us around the school. When we asked him to introduce us to some of the refugee families, he immediately took us to see the family of a young boy called Delan, meaning ‘hearts’ in Kurdish. The family comes from Al-Hassakeh but left when the situation in Syria became too bad. Delan is 11-years-old and has been blind since birth. He is a gifted musician, who plays the tambur and who, despite his blindness, composes his own music and lyrics. Delan performed one of his songs for us. We were spellbound by his talent, and the evocative melody. The tambur was old and battered, and clearly a favoured possession. Delan’s father told us that the talented boy is very sensitive and that the tambur is hugely important to him – if he doesn’t play it every day he becomes nervous. Delan had kept a firm hold on it during the journey but during the border crossing it had become damaged.
‘Delan had been discriminated against because he is a Kurd and had played his songs, many of which have patriotic themes, at a Kurdish festival. As a result, extremists within the government prevented him from going to his music school.
‘We recorded the rest of our conversation with Delan and his father. His story was immensely touching. He made an impromptu speech describing his feelings and his hopes for the future, with an eloquence and sensitivity that was profoundly moving. Speaking with Delan, hearing his story and his music was the most emotional event I have yet experienced during the deployment.’
You can listen to Delan play his tambour here: DELAN
You can donate the SYRIA REFUGEE APPEAL HERE