In the Midst of Adversity
For most, the onset of attacks in northeast Syria were unexpected, leaving people no time to prepare and no time to think—only to flee.
The earth rumbled as smoke rose high. A bomb landed just 250 feet from the point where Mohammed, a construction worker, stood. Moments later, he reached home. This would be the last time Mohammed would step foot into the space where his family of 15 lived—the place his two daughters, Yasmine and Dibler, were supposed to grow up.
“I told my family to pack their bags and we left. It’s not safe to be in Syria; we’ll be hurt if we ever turn back,” shares Mohammed.
As Syria near its ninth year of crisis, 6.2 million people inside the country are displaced. The most recent crisis in northeast Syria began on October 9, 2019. And this ongoing military operation has pushed more than 15,800 people across the border into Iraq, and left over 99,000 newly displaced people inside Syria.*
“We need help for everything here,” shares Amed, a slender man with a head of thick salt and pepper hair. Amed fled his village when he and his wife, Solin, heard bombs falling over their hometown. As he shares about their journey to Iraq, Solin gently lifts her polka-dotted head scarf to dab the tears in her eyes.
“We can never forget our soil,” says Amed, pointing to the ground. “Our villages will always be home.” He rests his hand on his heart as his eyes glisten, holding back tears which inevitably stream down his cheek.
Leaving home to go to a foreign land is no one’s first choice. And for some, it’s not the first time they’ve had to leave their home in search of safety.
“I was a teacher before; I taught mathematics,” shares Layla. Her husband, Razum, walks over carrying their 19-month-old toddler, Jude, with Haifa, 3 years, along his side. Razum shares that he used to work as a dental assistant and was attending courses in engineering. That was before—before the new crisis in northeast Syria pushed their family of four across an international border.
Haifa, 3 years old, holds medicine her family received at Medair’s medical clinic after crossing the border into Iraq on October 27, 2019
Layla and Razum’s arrival in Iraq marks the third time their family has been displaced. When their family fled their homes for the second time, Layla was nine months pregnant.
“We knew we could never go back. Jude was born after we ran away. He was a gift, our hope during this time,” says Layla. Among the turmoil and uncertain ends to the roads ahead, Jude offered a source of joy—a beginning to a new way of life away from home.
Yet, almost two years later, the family’s routine was disrupted once again.
“We try to cope, but we keep being displaced. The first time it was painful, now it’s adding more pain,” says Layla.
Razum says he’s hoping to find safety for his family within Iraq—a crucial element for many in their pilgrimage from northeast Syria into Iraq.
As Syrian refugees cross the border into Iraq, they arrive at a transition point and wait to be taken to the next stage of their journey away from home. People first register with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and with local authorities. Various humanitarian aid organizations, including Medair, coordinate to meet incoming refugees’ most urgent needs like a warm meal, vaccines and health care, and a place to rest their heads after a treacherous journey.
Walking all day and through the night is hard on anyone’s body, all the more so a multi-day trek with a distant end in sight. At 75 years old, Madia lost count of the days she walked to set foot on Iraqi soil. The expedition wore on Madia‘s body as her ten family members trudged through the night. At three in the morning, Madia’s family finally arrived. “I have knee pain from the travels and should visit the clinic,” shares Madia.
Refugees travelling extensive distances are experiencing muscle and bone pain from prolonged travels on foot. Winter is approaching and temperatures are dropping at night, when most refugees are making their way across the Syrian-Iraqi border. These cooler temperatures are resulting in an increase in fevers and colds.
On October 25th this 6-week-old baby was brought to Medair’s mobile clinic with an upper respiratory infection.
Ryan, six months old, had spent the previous night outside, which likely contributed to the high fever he had when he arrived at Medair’s health clinic. Medair is one of two organizations providing emergency health services along the Iraqi border. Most health needs at the border are relatively mild but the service is vital, especially because those crossing the border are in a vulnerable mental state. If nothing else, medicine for bone pain or infections helps to alleviate pain while they wait for the next step. Additionally, these services show that, even in the midst of adversity, people—strangers—care enough to show up to help meet their needs.
From the border, Syrian refugees transition onto Bardarash or Galiwan refugee camps; both camp are nearly at capacity. Medair provides refugees with water and sanitation items, including basins, buckets, pitchers, and soap.
“Water and sanitation services prevent disease and enable dignity. It’s chaotic enough to leave your home country and arrive in a camp with limited mobility. At least, in the middle of it all, families can wash their clothes, cook, and have a sense of normalcy. We can contribute to that, which is so important for mental health. It brings hope,” shares Amalan Arulanantham, Medair Emergency WASH Project Manager.
Over the course of one week, Medair teams distributed 2,910 WASH kits in Bardarash and Galiwan camps—small things that show great love, and in turn have a great impact.
“They’re simple items, but they can make a big difference,” adds Amalan.
In Iraq, Medair provides vulnerable people with shelter, health care, psychosocial support, safe drinking water, latrines, and hygiene. Medair’s work in Iraq is supported by the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and generous donors like you.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.