ShelterBox and ACTED have transformed unfinished buildings into habitable houses for Iraq’s families on the run from Islamic State

Seje-view over buildings-and desert ©ShelterBox/ACTED

Seje, Iraq – view over buildings and desert ©ShelterBox/ACTED

A half-finished home is safer than no home at all. Nearly 2,000 people have sheltered, sweltered and shivered in these breeze block shells for over two years. Now ShelterBox and partner agency ACTED have transformed and weatherproofed unfinished buildings in a Northern Iraq village.

ShelterBox Response Team volunteer, Rachel Harvey reports from Iraq

 

Seje is a village like no other. It is largely made up of houses belonging to members of the Kurdish diaspora, but many of the building projects stalled when the local economy crashed in the face of continued conflict and a falling oil price.

The walls and roofs are there, but windows, doors and paintwork were never completed. Around 2,000 of Iraq’s internally displaced people – as many as thirty sharing a single house – were offered temporary refuge here. For most, ‘temporary’ has turned into a protracted two years, and there is no immediate prospect of a return home.

So disaster relief partners ShelterBox and ACTED launched a joint project to provide ‘sealing off’ kits to make good the houses. PVC windows and doors, wood, tarpaulins, tools and fixings were given to households to seal-up the open spaces. At last these long-suffering families are protected from dust, animals, bugs, summer heat and winter cold, and have some measure of privacy.

Barkat Ibraheem Khalaf with daughters and granddaughter, Jyan ©ShelterBox/ACTED

Barkat Ibraheem Khalaf with daughters and granddaughter, Jyan ©ShelterBox/ACTED

Barkat Ibraheem Khalaf (photo 2nd left) lives with his extended family in the village. Sixteen people share a house including five children, one of them just 13 days old when ShelterBox visited this month. The infant, Barkat’s granddaughter, has been named Kanawer, which means ‘where is our home?’ in Kurdish. 

The Khalaf family home was once a small town called Gar Azer Shengal nestled behind Sinjar Mountain. But the town was overrun by Islamic State forces in 2014. The family fled and has been living in the unfinished building in Seje ever since.

‘Before we had this we just had some thin plastic sheeting,’ said Barkat. ‘It was terrible. In the summer everything was covered in dust. In the winter the rain came in. It was like a flood with the kids paddling around in the water.’

Now things are much better he says. The sealing off kits from ACTED and ShelterBox have provided protection from the elements and Barkat says it was all easy to install because the correct tools were provided. The family’s original home back in Gar Azer Shengal has been destroyed and the village is ‘occupied’. If Islamic State is driven out of Iraq will the family return? ‘I can’t say yes or no,’ he said. ‘There is no trust anymore.’

Barkat’s family and many of their neighbours in Seje are survivors of one of the most notorious episodes in the Kurdish battle against so-called Islamic State. In August 2014 IS seized control of the city of Sinjar in Nineveh province. There were reports of mass executions and women being taken into slavery – the UN records that 5,000 Yazidi civilians died. An exodus of hundreds of thousands of people onto barren Mount Sinjar followed. Aid was dropped by helicopter, but over the coming weeks only one in ten was able to leave the exposed mountain and head for displacement camps. Seje and its abandoned and unfinished houses offered some protection to around 2,000 of these battle-weary travellers.

Twin girls born 31st August 2016, still unnamed when photo taken ©ShelterBox/ACTED

Twin girls born 31st August 2016, still unnamed when photo taken ©ShelterBox/ACTED

Among the displaced citizens of Seje are twin girls born 31 August 2016, still unnamed when our photo was taken (photo top left).

Also Hanif, a widow age 45 who was stranded on Mount Sinjar for eighteen terrifying days. Hanif says there was no water or food beyond the meagre supplies they had carried with them. The very day they fled to the mountain Hanif’s daughter gave birth to baby Afreen, which means ‘creation’. Afreen is now age 2 (photo top left) so has spent all her young life in the makeshift dwellings of Seje. Hanif shares half a divided house with her daughter and three granddaughters.

The building, like most others in Seje, was just an unfinished shell when they moved into it, no windows or doors, only gaps in the concrete walls. They tried blocking up the gaps with stones and bricks but that cut off all natural light and the house was very dark. Now that ACTED and ShelterBox have stepped in, new hard-wearing windows and a door have been installed, keeping out the dust in summer and the cold and rain in winter. ‘It was very hard to keep things clean before.’ Hanif said. ‘Now things are much better. We are protected inside.’

Seje-Khudedo and family ©ShelterBox/ACTED

Seje – Khudedo and family ©ShelterBox/ACTED

Khudedo and his extended family (left) were forced to flee from their homes in Telazeer near Sinjar in August of 2014. From a community of 1,200 people Khudedo thinks only 100-150 were rescued or escaped. The rest were captured or killed. He recalls being trapped on Sinjar mountain. ‘Those times were really difficult. No food or water. We were really afraid.’ The nearest small spring was a 10km walk away, and the journey was far from safe. Khudedo explained that at one point they were so short of water they began using the caps from plastic water bottles to measure out rations for each person.

After a while a safe corridor opened up, and Khudedo was able to arrange a few vehicles to help bring his family to safety after walking close to ten hours. He and his sons were construction workers in Seje, working on the very house where ShelterBox recently found them. They knew the owner of the house lived abroad and would not be returning, so they contacted him and he graciously allowed them to live there in his absence. The home is large, but Khudedo lives there with his five sons and their families – around 30 people in total.

The ‘sealing off kits’ have made a great difference. Khudedo recounted having to shake out all their clothes and household items every day as the rooms would fill with dust. During the winter, they blocked the windows with stones to keep out the cold and wind, but the rooms would be so dark it was difficult to see. ‘These windows and doors really have made all the difference, and even though this will not be our house forever, our family finally feels safe and happy living here.’

His family longs for the day when they can return home, but they are afraid of what they might find. ‘We don’t know the condition of our homes or if anything is even still there. We don’t know how long it will take for the fighting to stop. We have the skills to rebuild our house, but we have no money left and no materials. We are also afraid of returning because Islamic State were our neighbours and they might still be there. We cannot return unless we have protection.’

Hanif, 45 and her granddaughter Afreen, 2yrs ©ShelterBox/ACTED

Hanif, 45 and her granddaughter Afreen, 2yrs ©ShelterBox/ACTED

ACTED and ShelterBox are now preparing to respond to an anticipated humanitarian disaster centred on the city of Mosul, Islamic State’s last stronghold in Iraq. A military offensive aimed at liberating the city is expected to trigger a massive displacement of people, an estimated 600,000 or more. Initially aid will be focused on increasing the capacity of camps for internally displaced people in Northern Iraq, but a second phase will offer portable aid to people on the move.

ShelterBox is funding the sourcing of basic non-food items kits and shading materials, ACTED is purchasing them locally and arranging storage, delivery, and distribution to displaced families. ACTED and ShelterBox have partnered many times before around the world, most recently after the Nepal quakes in 2015 when they sourced shelter materials in country and delivered them to some of the highest-altitude communities on the planet.

You can support our efforts by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

Trying To Ease Suffering In Syria And Iraq Kurdistan

IRAQ KURDISTAN. AUGUST 2013. ShelterBox has been helping Syrian refugees in Iraq Kurdistan for over two years. (Simon Clarke/ShelterBox)

IRAQ KURDISTAN. AUGUST 2013. ShelterBox has been helping Syrian refugees in Iraq Kurdistan for over two years. (Simon Clarke/ShelterBox)

ShelterBox is striving to help families who have been forced from their homes due to conflict but remain within the borders of their own countries in Syria and Iraq.   
These internally displaced persons (IDPs) are just some of the 33.3 million that the United Nations estimates to be the IDP global population in their latest report.
A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in northern Iraq. Reports state that fighting between militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and pro-government forces are driving hundreds of thousands of families from their homes, particularly in Mosul, to seek safety and shelter in Iraq Kurdistan’s peaceful cities of Erbil and Duhok.
ShelterBox has a team in Iraq Kurdistan meeting with partner aid agencies to see how it can support the humanitarian response, and shelter IDPs.
‘Families will be made to uproot again’
‘The IDP situation here is fluid,’ said one of ShelterBox’s operations coordinators currently in the country.  ‘Some families have already returned to Mosul but the fighting is expected to continue, which would increase the number of people in need in the days and weeks to come.
‘Coordination with other aid agencies and government bodies is key in this response to avoid duplications in aid efforts and help those in need more effectively and efficiently.’
IRAQ KURDISTAN. SEPTEMBER 2013. Coordination with other aid agencies has been imperative in ShelterBox's responses in Syria and Iraq Kurdistan. Here is ShelterBox response team member Torstein Nielsen checking tents with local Kurdish partner Barzani Charity Foundation. (ShelterBox)

IRAQ KURDISTAN. SEPTEMBER 2013. Coordination with other aid agencies has been imperative in ShelterBox’s responses in Syria and Iraq Kurdistan. Here is ShelterBox response team member Torstein Nielsen checking tents with local Kurdish partner Barzani Charity Foundation. (ShelterBox)

Meanwhile in Syria there are thought to be 6.5 million displaced people alone where ongoing conflict also causes families to be uprooted several times. Men, women and children face violence daily as they remain within an active conflict zone. Access to food, water, shelter and medical care is often limited as it’s hard for aid agencies to reach them.
Two trucks of ShelterBox aid en route to Syria
However ShelterBox has been providing vital aid to Syrian IDPs for over two years now by working with partner humanitarian organisations that already have a presence in the country.
‘We have just sent two more trucks of ShelterBox aid that will be delivered to IDPs in Syria by our long-term partner charity Hand in Hand for Syria,’ said ShelterBox operations coordinator Sam Hewett. ‘Tents are en route now along with Shelter Repair Kits, mosquito nets, water filters and carriers, blankets, groundsheets, SchoolBoxes and solar lamps.’
‘At first glance this UN report seems to describe a hopeless situation, with conflict on the rise globally, and numbers of refugees at a record high,’ said ShelterBox CEO Alison Wallace. ‘But here, at ShelterBox, our outlook is hopeful because we have the means and experience to help provide families with shelter and essential equipment.
‘The numbers may be daunting, but that positive outlook reflects the attitude of our supporters, who give so generously because they are moved by the plight of these families on the run. ShelterBox is dedicated to doing all it can, wherever it can, to ease the suffering of those fleeing conflict.’
Thank you. 

ShelterBox Responds To Civil Unrest In Iraq

RAQ KURDISTAN. AUGUST 2013. Syrian refugees gather at camps in Iraq Kurdistan (Hunter Tanous/ShelterBox).

RAQ KURDISTAN. AUGUST 2013. Syrian refugees gather at camps in Iraq Kurdistan (Hunter Tanous/ShelterBox).

 

ShelterBox is liaising with partner aid agencies in Iraq Kurdistan to see how the international disaster relief charity can help people who have been forced to flee their homes as civil unrest spreads across the country.
Violence broke out in the city of Mosul earlier this week, forcing 500,000 people from their homes. The majority have fled further north to Iraq Kurdistan’s main cities of Erbil and Duhok to seek safety and shelter.
ShelterBox has been working in the region over the past few years helping Syrian refugee families, providing them with shelter and other vital aid. The charity’s operations department is in contact with its partner humanitarian organisations in the area.
‘We have been looking into the situation since the civil unrest began a few days ago,’ said ShelterBox operations manager Alf Evans. ‘We are getting updates from in country partner aid agencies who we’ve worked with before that include the latest figures of those displaced and where they are as well as the latest developments of what is a very fluid situation. We are waiting for a clearer picture to see how and if we can assist the displaced families, as many are staying in schools and with friends and relatives.’
You can find out more about Kurdistan here.
Please donate here: DONATE

Two Children Point The Way To Peace In Syria

Delan playing his tambur at Qushtapa refugee camp, Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, October 2013.

Delan playing his tambur at Qushtapa refugee camp, Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, October 2013.

 

Below is a heartwarming story from ShelterBox UK

ShelterBox has helped set up an unlikely ‘friendship by post’ between the UK and a Syrian refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Toby Little from Sheffield, UK has become a global phenomenon with his ‘Writing to the World’ project – now ShelterBox has helped him to exchange letters with Delan Dari, a blind Kurdish Syrian musician.

Governments, diplomats and weapons inspectors wrangle over the Syrian conflict. Meanwhile two children over 2,000 miles apart have started a charming dialogue that points the way to peace.
5-year-old Toby Little and 11-year-old Delan Dari have been brought together by ShelterBox, the international disaster relief charity aiming to raise enough funds to help up to 5,000 more Syrian Refugee families before the harsh winter sets in.

Toby

Primary pupil Toby Little from Sheffield found an original way to fill his summer holidays – by sending handwritten letters to people in every country in the world. He’s written 321 letters to all 193 UN countries, and received 114 replies so far. But more than that, Toby has drawn the attention of broadcasters and journalists worldwide, as his ‘Writing to the World’ website became an international media marvel. His simple but engaging ‘global pen-pal’ project has been featured in TV interviews, online articles and newspapers on every continent.
Toby is also using his growing fame to raise funds for ShelterBox, via his own JustGiving site.
‘I am writing to anybody who can write back, but many people can’t even buy a stamp, they can’t even buy food!’ said Toby. ‘ShelterBox helps by sending special boxes to countries where people need them. A ShelterBox has lots of things in it to help a family, like a tent and tools, and things to make the water clean, and even toys for children. A whole box costs £590, and that’s my target.’
Toby writing his letters to the world, 2013.

Toby writing his letters to the world, 2013.

 

Toby so quickly exceeded this original target he now has five ShelterBoxes as his latest aim, and the money is still pouring in.
Delan

A child hero on a much smaller stage is Delan Dari. Delan’s family comes from Al-Hassakeh, one of Syria’s largest cities, but they were forced to flee the conflict and are now living under canvas in Qushtapa refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Blind from birth, Delan is a gifted musician, playing the tambur and composing his own music and lyrics. Amid the bleakness of the refugee camp he has become something of a celebrity, entertaining other families with impromptu evening concerts.
Back in Syria Delan faced discrimination. After he played Kurdish songs with patriotic themes at a festival, extremists stopped him from attending music school. His tambur is old and battered, and clearly a favoured possession. Delan’s father says he is very sensitive and if he doesn’t play and sing every day he becomes nervous.
‘I am very sad about what is going on in my country,’ said Delan. ‘I miss it.’
Among his touching self-composed lyrics are: ‘Don’t make me cry for the past because we have suffered a lot. Let us look to the future.’
Toby and Delan

With pride Delan holds up a hand written letter from Toby Little, the friend he has never met. It has been brought to Delan by ShelterBox in a departure from their usual aid deliveries.
Toby wrote, ‘Dear Delan, how are you? I am sorry you had to leave your home. Are you okay? Is it hard playing the tambur? What do you write your songs about?’
Delan with his father and the letter Toby wrote to him, Qushtapa refugee camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, October 2013.

Delan with his father and the letter Toby wrote to him, Qushtapa refugee camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, October 2013.

 

With the help of the ShelterBox team and a translator, Delan gave this reply: ‘Hi Toby, my warm greetings to you. I’m very happy to receive your letter which supported me a lot. I hope that I’m going to be an international artist. I wish you a nice future, and that we are going to be friends for years. Keep in touch.’
ShelterBox’s Head of Fundraising and Communicaitons Becky Maynard, who has just returned from a deployment to distribute school materials to refugee camps in Kurdistan, said, ‘It was a great privilege to meet Delan and his family, and to see their pride in the letter they received from Toby.’
‘The things we take for granted for our children – contact with the outside world, proper schooling, shelter from heat and cold – are often missing from these young refugee lives. ShelterBox is doing all it can to give these extraordinary and resilient families some hope of a brighter future.’
You can help Shelterbox Australia  help bring shelter and safety to Syrian families fleeing conflict, please donate and help us make a difference.

 

 

 

 

Business as Usual at Domiz Refugee Camp

Customers outside of Naif's shop, a Syrian refugee who is using his ShelterBox tent not just to shelter his family but to also make a living, Domiz camp, Iraq Kurdistan, November 2012.

Customers outside of Naif’s shop, a Syrian refugee who is using his ShelterBox tent not just to shelter his family but to also make a living, Domiz camp, Iraq Kurdistan, November 2012.

 

With almost 20,000 Syrian refugees living at Domiz camp in Iraq Kurdistan, it’s no wonder that a new business opens up each day there, be it a convenience store, bakery, clothes stall or cafe. 

Approximately one third of the registered Syrian refugee population in Iraq lives at Domiz in the Governate of Duhok. They have run from the violence in Syria due to the civil war. Returning to their homes in the near future does not look likely. To restore a sense of normality, trading is rife at the camp.

Naif is 28-years-old. He has set up a shop at the front of his ShelterBox tent. He lives there with his 22-year-old wife Dekhaz and two children aged one and three. Dekhaz is also three months pregnant.

Read more and watch the new video here: NAIF

Tales of Survival and Cooperation in Domiz, Iraq

Abrahim and Zakha Khalo with their granddaughter Zozan outside their ShelterBox tent at Domiz refugee camp, Iraq Kurdistan, November 2012.

Abrahim and Zakha Khalo with their granddaughter Zozan outside their ShelterBox tent at Domiz refugee camp, Iraq Kurdistan, November 2012.

 

With 500 ShelterBox tents now up in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraq Kurdistan, Syrian refugees, fleeing war and persecution, share tales of escape and survival.

Read Zakha Khalo’s story here: SURVIVAL

 

From left to right: Abdullah's Auntie Nayima (30) and her three-year-old son Azadin, SRT member Rebecca Novell (UK), Abdullah (28) , Mohammad (15), all at Abdullah's temporary home he built at Domiz refugee camp, November 2012

From left to right: Abdullah’s Auntie Nayima (30) and her three-year-old son Azadin, SRT member Rebecca Novell (UK), Abdullah (28) , Mohammad (15), all at Abdullah’s temporary home he built at Domiz refugee camp, November 2012

 

One night in October 2010, 40 soldiers came to take Abdullah from his home in Qamishli, Syria. His time as an English Language student at University of Aleppo was to stop. Instead he was forced to join the Syrian Army to fight for President Bashar al-Assad. Two years later, he escaped amidst the escalating violence between government troops and rebel fighters and is now living as a deserter at Domiz refugee camp in Iraq Kurdistan. He is also proving to be invaluable to ShelterBox as its guide and translator.

 

Read Abdulla’s story here: TRANSLATOR