Yazidi Iraqi refugees arrive dehydrated in Syria after week stranded in Sinjar mountains


Yazidi Iraqi refugees arrive dehydrated in Syria after week stranded in Sinjar mountains

The International Rescue Committee is providing emergency medical care for up to 4,000 dehydrated Yazidi Iraqi refugees, mostly women and children, who have survived without food or water for up to six days hiding from Islamic State militants in the Sinjar mountains.

The refugees chose to seek safety in Syria, a country also ridden by conflict, and on Thursday evening (7 August) arrived in Newrooz camp in Al Hazakah province in the northeast of the country. They had suffered dehydration, sun stroke and diarrhea, and some were in need of urgent treatment for war injuries.

Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The refugees are a breakaway group of around 40,000 Yazidis, a minority religious group in Iraq, that are currently stranded in the Sinjar mountains. With the Islamic State attacking minorities in Sinjar — including Christians, Turkmens and Shia Arabs — the group fears persecution and death if they descend the mountain, but are in danger of dying of dehydration if they remain.

Both the UN and the US have provided food and water air-drops in the past few days in an attempt to reach some of those stranded, but the situation is rapidly deteriorating.

Suzanna Tkalec, International Rescue Committee’s Iraq Country Director, said: “Everything humanly possible must be done to prevent further tragedy from occurring on Mount Sinjar. Whether coming overland or through air drops, there needs to be a coordinated response to ensure aid reaches the 40,000 people stranded on the mountainside. In addition, a safe route out of the mountains must be established as soon as possible, as well as guarantees of safety for the displaced in surrounding areas. The ultimate goal must be to provide the safe return home for those who have fled attacks. This is especially necessary, for religious minority groups have found it necessary to live closely together following previous waves of sectarian violence.”

The IRC is providing medical care for the new arrivals at Newrooz camp, previously home to 20 Syrian families that had been displaced by the fighting in the country. The camp lacks enough tents for the new arrivals but the IRC has provided plastic sheeting, and the Syrians already living at Newrooz have helped the newcomers build makeshift shelters. In the coming days the IRC plans to also provide basic necessities including cooking equipment, blankets and soap.

During the past week the IRC has also attempted to distribute essential hygiene items and medicines to health centers in towns in the contested areas between the Nineva and Duhok governorates in Iraq, but found the towns nearly empty. Those who remained were preparing to leave to Duhok, where up to 250,000 more people are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Since the crisis began early last month, an estimated 850,000 Iraqis have escaped the ongoing violence. According to the UN, 1.2 million people in Iraq have been displaced this year.

The IRC currently works in 13 of Iraq’s 18 governorates and, as UNHCR’s largest partner in the country, has been at the forefront of monitoring the influx of the newly displaced Iraqis.

The IRC has reached more than 1,400 families since early June, distributing emergency supplies like bedding and hygiene kits to displaced Iraqis and the communities providing them shelter. The IRC also registered 637 families hosting Iraqis for vouchers redeemable at local vendors for emergency supplies

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