One year ago, Hadji Charmeed’s family made the most difficult decision of their lives.
“I am unable to walk because of my previous injury in war,” said Hadji, looking at his partly amputated foot. “My family didn’t want to leave me behind, so they decided we will all stay together.”
That was the day when armed groups stormed Sinjar district in Iraq’s Ninewa province, killing and displacing thousands of people.
Some people ran away and sought refuge in the Sinjar Mountains. Others, like Hadji, were captured. After months spent in captivity, Hadji and part of his family finally found a safer place. They made it to a location near the city of Zakho, in northern Iraq. Having left everything behind, they arrived empty handed and took up residence in one of several unfinished houses in the area, which, along with skeletal multi-story apartment blocks nearby, are now home to approximately 700 families.
The living conditions are dire. Made of concrete, most of the houses lack windows and doors. They don’t protect from the cold and wet weather in winter, or from the heat in summer, when temperatures can rise over 50°C, or 120°F. With difficult access to water and no electricity, the harsh conditions complicate the life and health of people in the settlement.
MSF has been running mobile clinics in the area around Zakho since August 2014. Between January and June 2015, MSF medical teams provided a total of 15,788 consultations to displaced people living in unfinished buildings around Zakho.
“Ten percent of our cases are psychosomatic, which is a very high number,” said Jalal Alyas, an MSF nurse. “Forty percent of our patients suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension and the rest face viral and respiratory infections, diarrhea and skin diseases like scabies." The latter conditions especially are the result of poor living situations and are frequently accompanied by abscesses and infected wounds.
One year after fleeing their homes, displaced families face the same situation as when they first arrived. Little has improved and they continue to live in uncertainty. They cannot return home, and some of them are threatened by building owners who want to reclaim their properties. The camps for displaced people are full, and funding for activities supporting them is dropping.
“Many families are in need of humanitarian assistance and live in appalling conditions in unfinished buildings,” said MSF field coordinator Caroline Voûte. “Donors have started to turn away and people living outside of the camps continue to be neglected.”
Farhan Khala lives in harsh and uncertain conditions in one of the multi-story cement structures near Zakho. “I wish for my family to find a safe place for life,” he said, echoing many of the displaced people in this area and beyond. “We would give everything we have left to be reunited together again as a family.”
MSF’s work in northern Iraq
The escalation of the armed conflict over the past two years has displaced more than three million people across the country since January 2014, according to official figures.
MSF has been responding to the humanitarian needs of displaced people who fled from Anbar, Salah–ad-Din and later Ninawa governorates. MSF medical teams strive to provide health care in different areas of the country, along with water and sanitation services and blanket and non-food item distributions. Since January 2015, MSF teams have provided a total of 55,598 consultations to displaced Iraqis.
MSF has worked continuously in Iraq since 2006, in various locations in the North and South of the country. In order to ensure its independence, MSF does not accept funding from any government, religious committee, or international agency for its programs in Iraq, and relies solely on private donations from the general public around the world to carry out its work. MSF currently employs over 300 staff in Iraq.