Heart-breaking conversations with escapees from Mosul

ShelterBox’s Alice Jefferson has just returned from Iraq. Here in a screening and aid distribution centre south west of Mosul Airport, she met people who have just left behind one of the most intense battles on earth, still raging just a few miles away. They may have lost loved ones, their homes, their possessions. But they have escaped with their lives.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator, Alice Jefferson in Iraq

Salamiyah is a surreal place. A former gas depot just a few miles from Mosul airport. Up to 14,000 people a day have passed through the screening site. It is the first step on a road that is taking the battle-weary of Mosul towards some sort of safety.

After security screening families receive initial basic support and their first meal. Most will then be taken by bus to camps, or, if they prefer, to relatives in the surrounding area. Aid is also being given to host families, and to communities that have also lived under two years of Islamic State rule. The flow of people through the site now requires a continuous 24 hour bus service for onward travel.

Alice spoke with a grandmother who now lives in Salamiyah village. ShelterBox respects their wishes not to be named, and in some cases not to be photographed. Despite all their hardships she was smiling and happy to discuss her situation with the team.

‘We have lived under Daesh (Islamic State) control for over two years’ the grandmother told Alice. When asked where her family is currently living she said, ‘We stay in the Institute with over a hundred other families.’ The Institute is a collective centre in the village of Salamiyah providing shelter to internally displaced families who were once held under Islamic State control. ‘I want to go home,’ she says poignantly, ‘But for now it is not possible.’

The grandmother and her family are from a nearby town called Gwer, on the banks of the Great Zab River, a strategic link between the cities of Tikrit and Mosul that flows into the Tigris. Gwer was captured by Islamic State in August 2014. Most schools were closed then, and children such as her granddaughter have missed out on education for over two years. ‘She has not been able to attend school, and there is also no schooling available here either.’

The town was retaken by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, but the bridge and key supply route across the river was badly damaged by Islamic State fighters. Fighting has continued for months and the town is now heavily fortified.

As Alice was talking to grandmother and granddaughter another family came forward keen to tell their story. They also dared not give names, and would not be photographed. They came from Al-Shuhada, a district in Western Mosul retaken by advancing Iraqi forces on 8 March after days of heavy fighting. The mother said, ‘I was displaced just four days ago.’

Alice asked if the young boy waiting quietly by her side was her son. She said ‘Yes, I also have two daughters – three children with no father.’ Alice asked what had happened to their father. ‘Daesh have been in control for two years. Our family lived in Mosul before, but I have family that originally came from this village. Before they came into the city my husband was working with the police service, collecting intelligence on Daesh.’

She reached for her tissue and was visibly upset at the memory. ‘When the city was taken my husband was murdered by Daesh. They took him away and cut him many times. He was then thrown into the landfill. No burial.’

His brutal murder took place more than two years ago, and since then the family has had to live under the rule of the people that killed their husband and father. They escaped as soon as they could, crossing the front line into Federal Iraq-controlled areas. They were screened before being bussed south to Salamiyah, choosing to not go into the government-run displacement camps as she had family connections in the village. This support structure is vital now she has lost her husband and her home.

Alice asked if the family will return to West Mosul. ‘No it is not likely that we will return,’ she said. ‘There is nothing left for us in Mosul’.

Alice Jefferson says, ‘As the distribution continued I spoke to a number of other women in the line. A startlingly common theme began to emerge. Husbands, fathers and sons were missing.’

ShelterBox aid being distributed in Salamiyah

The danger of freezing nights has now succumbed to rainy days, where dust is quickly churned to mud underfoot, and soon there will be the prospect of annual desert storms. Iraq can have an inhospitable climate, and shelter from the strong winds is essential, not a luxury. The weather was kind when Alice and colleagues visited Salamiyah, but on the previous day planned visits had to be cancelled due to severe rainfall.

 

You can help those fleeing the terror in Mosul by donating today: PLEASE DONATE

Praying for rain, searching for pasture – the nomadic people of parched Somaliland.

A ShelterBox team is there now, discussing aid possibilities as drought threatens millions.

Somaliland is a self-declared state on the Horn of Africa. Diplomatically isolated, it is now facing famine as livestock perish after three years of poor pasture. A ShelterBox team is in Hargeisa talking to aid colleagues about what, if anything, can avert a humanitarian disaster

The people of Somaliland are looking anxiously to the skies. In the next few weeks seasonal rains known locally as ‘Gu’ might just save them from impending famine. But if the rains fail they will almost certainly lose their remaining livestock, on which they rely entirely for food and income.

The Gu rainy season in April is the main crop season in Somaliland. In the usual cycle it brings three quarters of the area’s annual rainfall. But for the last three years this corner of Africa has experienced the worst growing seasons on record. No rain means no pasture for the flocks and herds, which means nothing for people to eat or sell. Already the dehydrated carcasses of cattle, sheep and goats litter the landscape.   

Those still alive are being driven by their owners ever further off the usual routes in a desperate search for water and pasture. Somaliland has a population of 3 million, half of whom are nomads. Nomad life depends on livestock, and the continual search for grazing land. Already up to 70% of livestock have perished in some areas.

Now, with thirst and malnutrition a daily threat, families are becoming even more widely displaced.  Complicating the matter further, men and older sons usually head off first into the desert to seek pasture, sometimes by foot, sometimes in livestock trucks. This leaves women and children behind in households facing dire conditions. 

International emergency shelter experts ShelterBox are in the city of Hargeisa talking to the aid community and government officials about the scale of the problem. The people of Somaliland will need a mix of aid in the form of water, food, medicines and shelter.

Team leader James Luxton says, ‘Somaliland is distinctive in many ways. It has the advantage of being relatively peaceful, with no ongoing conflict as seen in neighbouring territories. And family and community really matters here. Displacement patterns are driven by clan, tribe and sub-tribe affiliations, so nomads displaced from one area will go to fellow clan or tribe members in another area.’

‘So, many communities are hosting the displaced, and in this extreme situation are becoming overwhelmed. There are some government-run camps, but they are little more than basic hubs providing water, food and hygiene items. We are visiting one such camp today.’

‘But it is the widely and thinly scattered nomadic population, constantly on the move, that brings the greatest challenges. Simply finding those in greatest need amid this vast open territory will be a task. We are talking to all the relevant players, aid agencies and government, and will then decide what help ShelterBox is able to offer, and where.’

The families in peril are a mix of internally displaced Somalilanders, and those fleeing famine and conflict from Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia. The ShelterBox team has so far met with the Somaliland Government’s Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation & Reconstruction, with shelter and refugee aid agencies, and with various United Nations organisations.

To help those in need in Somaliland and other countries, please DONATE HERE

 

After Aleppo – Aid chief says, ‘People have escaped one hell only to be caught in another.’

Syrian baby wrapped in blankets

©ReliefAid

ShelterBox and its partners are helping displaced families cope with the grim realities of life under canvas, in the cold and mud, with only basic amenities. These battle-weary people, formerly residents of a thriving city, now need every kind of aid imaginable – even lighting, children’s clothes, and sewing kits.

We all breathed a sigh when we saw families being bused out of Aleppo just before Christmas. For them, at least, the fear of daily thirst, starvation and bombings was over. But now aid workers are finding that displacement is bringing other severe hardships.

Syrian refugee children

©ReliefAid

Farid, a Syrian staff member with ShelterBox partner ReliefAid, says, ‘I am deeply shocked by the living conditions of the camps where Aleppo families are now living. Even coming from East Aleppo where the destruction was huge and the humanitarian situation dire, the situation in the camps is worse. I have not seen anything like this before. No toilets, no water, mud everywhere.’

It takes a lot to shock aid workers in Syria, particularly former residents of Aleppo. Farid and his ReliefAid colleagues had seen their office bombed, and one of their team gunned down as he worked on a rooftop. But now, having quit their home city, razed to the ground by years of warfare, they have followed their neighbours into dozens of makeshift displacement camps dotted across the desert.

True, they are now out of the line of fire. But in every other way conditions could hardly be more harsh. Mike Seawright, Founder and Executive Director of ReliefAid, has worked in partnership with UK-based ShelterBox throughout the Syrian civil war, distributing its aid in some of the most dangerous territory on earth. Mike says, ‘People forced from their homes in Aleppo City are now having to live in freezing conditions surrounded by mud and water.’

‘They are joining families who have been living under the intense heat of summer and freezing winter conditions, including snow and ice, for five seasons. People have escaped one hell only to be caught in another.’

‘Families are now living in tents, having lost loved ones, with no idea how they will keep themselves warm at night. Without our collective support people will literally not survive.’

image of displacement camp in Syria

©ReliefAid

The ReliefAid team and ShelterBox are now gearing up to provide more aid to Syria’s displacement camps throughout March. They are concentrating on settlements in Idlib Governorate, particularly fifteen informal camps. The families here have been displaced from Aleppo over months, including in December’s exodus, and from areas in the south of the country.

Mike adds, ‘As you can see from our photos living conditions are very difficult. These smaller informal camps have been largely ignored as aid organisations look to provide assistance to sites that are easier to access and allow faster distribution. Families in these informal camps have significant needs which our next distribution is looking to address.’

syimage008

©ReliefAid

ShelterBox is providing 5,000 blankets and mattresses to help combat the cold, 4,000 sets of children’s clothing, and 4,000 pairs of jeans and jumpers. 1,000 tarpaulins are included for waterproofing tents and buildings, and 4,000 20 litre water carriers. Then there are the less expected items – solar lamps for safety in the dark desert nights, hammers and fixings, duct tape and rope.   

Without the financial means to purchase new clothing and tents, repairing them is an essential task in camp life. So the inclusion of 1,000 sewing kits means that families can make their precious materials last as long as possible.

ShelterBox’s Sam Hewett says, ‘Wherever you look in this region displaced families are living threadbare existences in uncomfortable conditions. These aid items bring some relief, particularly to the vulnerable, the young, the elderly. We will continue to source partnerships and aid routes that can find them, whether they have settled in large camps or small ad hoc encampments.’

You can help by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

Warm hands, warm hearts. ShelterBox brings heat to families on the run in the icy Syrian winter.

syria-warm-1

Displaced families in Syria are in peril in their desperation to keep warm. Last week a stove004makeshift kerosene heater exploded at the Bab Salama camp in north Aleppo, burning down two tents and injuring the occupants. UK agency ShelterBox is sending safer heaters into northern Syria.

Idleb in northern Syria is host to hundreds of thousands of families fleeing war, most of them now in vast displacement camps. But the area is also in the grip of an icy winter, with night-time temperatures as low as -9 degrees centigrade.

Some families are huddling in draughty single-room shelters constructed from concrete with tin roofs, with no source of heating and no windows. Others are living under canvas. So, the temptation is to improvise, to burn wood, or to make basic heaters out of tin cans, with naked flames and noxious fumes. The dangers are obvious, and spontaneous fires are frequent in this daily battle against the cold.

swarm002

 

So, to minimise fire-related tragedies while warming young hands, UK aid agencies ShelterBox and its in-country partner Hand in Hand for Syria have just distributed 1,000 high-spec kerosene heaters to families in Idleb.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett will shortly be travelling to the region to check on the charity’s aid programmes in Syria.

Sam says, We typically provide items to help insulate people against the cold. But it’s not always enough, as people need a source of heat as well. By providing heaters such as these people are able to get some comfort and undertake basic household activities such as cooking.’

‘But it also helps to prevent diseases—particularly those related to long-term exposure to cold and damp conditions and noxious fumes—that they would be exposed to from using improvised stoves.’

The 1,000 Diora kerosene cooker/heaters come supplied with fuel, and the families are shown how to use them safely and with proper ventilation.

swarm006

You can help those displaced by the conflict in Syria by donating to our Syria Refugee Appeal here:

PLEASE DONATE

Australian Volunteers Instrumental in Delivering Aid to Haiti

Shelter kits being unloaded in Les Cayes, Haiti

Shelter kits being unloaded in Les Cayes, Haiti

Despite civil protection officials taking to the streets to warn people, many on Haiti’s southern peninsula were unaware of the approach of Hurricane Matthew. It caused the greatest loss of life (1600) of any Atlantic Hurricane for eleven years.

A ShelterBox Response Team was on the ground within days.

As soon as the airports re-opened, a ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) from the UK, US, Germany and Canada arrived in Haiti, some of whom had experience of the 2010 earthquake response. The team’s emphasis was on the distribution of thousands of shelter kits, allowing the weatherproofing and repair of damaged homes. ShelterBox tents were found to be ideal for use as clinical space, to provide shelter and privacy for patients of the overstretched healthcare facilities. ShelterBox also provided solar lighting for families where power was down, and mosquito nets, via its Rotary contacts. Water filters were used to guard against the spread of waterborne disease. Within days of Matthew, as after the quake of 2010, Haiti was once again in the grip of a cholera outbreak.

 

A ShelterBox volunteer demonstrates the 'Thirst Aid Station' water filter

A ShelterBox volunteer demonstrates the ‘Thirst Aid Station’ water filter

 

Three Australia SRT members were deployed to assist the Response Team in Haiti. Central Coast SRT member, Peita Berzins, Tasmanian Art Shrimpton and South Australia Lucy Dodd (on her first deployment) were heavily involved in the logistics of getting aid through customs in Port au Prince and the preparation of non-food item kits to accompany Shelter Kits. These kits included essential like water filters, mosquito nets and solar lights.

Many towns had a high proportion of destroyed and damaged buildings and infrastructure, but in sharp contrast to the 2010 quake the Haitian Government coordinated efforts to clear, repair and rebuild, and took a lead on allocating specific tasks to groups of aid agencies. The thousands of shelter kits and non-food items helped families to cope in the interim.

Portraits of SRT members

Australian Response Team volunteers, Lucy Dodd (top) and Petie Berzins with Art Shrimpton (bottom left)

 

ShelterBox’s Response Team was based in Les Cayes and Port au Prince, as they worked to find ways to help Haitian people recover, rebuild, re-energise. The Les Cayes Rotary Club helped to identify what kind of aid was needed, and where.  A long-established alliance with major humanitarian player Handicap International also strengthened ShelterBox’s arm.

 

ShelterBox has been touched by the resilience and compassion of the Haitian people, and their pride in helping one another.

www.shelterboxaustralia.org.au