Crisis in north-eastern Syria sends thousands over border to Iraq

18 November 2019
Source: Medair
Country: Iraq, Syrian Arab Republic
More than 14,000 refugees from north-east Syria have fled across the border into Iraq, carrying with them nothing but a few personal belongings. Tens of thousands more people are expected.

Written by Amy Van Drunen, Communications Officer in Iraq – 11 November 2019

For most people living in north-eastern Syria, the recent military operations launched in early October were completely unexpected. With no time to prepare, people had to flee immediately to save their lives, often being separated from family members in the process.

Since then:

  • Over 14,000 refugees from north-east Syria have fled across the border into Iraq, carrying with them nothing but a few personal belongings.

  • Tens of thousands of more people are expected to arrive in the coming weeks and days.

  • 75 percent of refugees are believed to be women and children (UNHCR), which are among the most vulnerable in crisis situations.

Fleeing for the first time

As we edge closer to the ninth year of the Syria Crisis, for many this is still the first time they have been forcibly displaced from their homes.

Mohammed, a former construction worker, knew he needed to flee his community in north-eastern Syria immediately after a bomb landed just 75 meters from where he stood.

“I rushed home and told my family to pack their bags and we left. It’s not safe to be in Syria,” says Mohammed.

That was the last time he would step foot into the place he and his family called home—the place where he imagined his two daughters, Yasmine and Dibler, growing up.

No safe place

Others have had to flee multiple times, unable to find true security anywhere.

Layla and Razum’s arrival into northern Iraq marks their third time being displaced because of the ongoing crisis in Syria.

This time, they crossed the border into Iraq, Razum carrying their nearly 2-year-old baby, Jude, and their 3-year-old daughter, Haifa, walking alongside.

Before all of this, Layla was a math teacher in north-eastern Syria after having studied nursing. Razum worked as a dental assistant and was studying engineering.

“When we left home, we knew we could never go back. Shortly after we ran, our son, Jude, was born. He was a gift—our hope during this time,” says Layla.

“We try to cope, but we keep being displaced,” adds Razum. “The first time it was painful, now it is adding more pain. I hope we can find safety for our family in Iraq.”

New refugees need urgent medical care

New refugees are arriving at the border every day tired, weak, and in pain, after travelling long distances—often on foot. Medair is currently one of two organisations providing emergency health services along the Iraqi border. Through the mobile clinic, our medical staff treat new arrivals with viruses and bacterial infections, chronic diseases—including high blood pressure and diabetes—and basic first aid.

Yet, it is much more than that. Refugees are arriving in a very vulnerable mental state—fearful, stressed, and often traumatised. The presence of people eager to help them demonstrates that even in the midst of adversity, they are not forgotten. Their needs are known and we will continue to do our best to help them cope in their circumstances.

Leaving home to a foreign land is no one’s first choice. While people may have found temporary safety in Iraq from the crisis in their nation, their futures remain uncertain.