In September 2017, Refugee Biriyani & Bananas visited Duhok in Northern Iraq for an assessment and aid delivery. With the support of a local NGO and advisors from the humanitarian network in Greece, this mission was possible. At that time over 2 million people seeking refuge were internally displaced people (IDPs), having fled their homes, and countries seeking sanctuary in Iraqi Kurdistan.
According to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) during this period, people who are refugees and IDPs represented 28% of Iraqi Kurdistan’s total population. Many of the people we met were Yazidi and had fled the Shingal massacre. Others were from disputed conflict zones such as Mosul. There were also camps where people had arrived, from neighbouring countries such as Syria.
The camps were enormous with each one housing thousands of people. Khanke camp is just one of the camps we visited in Duhok and approximately 18,000 internally displaced people mainly from Shingal and Mosul resided there. There were rows and rows of tents. Survivors of conflict, war, torture, and ISIS captivity. We visited people in apartments as well as those registered in IDP camps such as Shariah and Khanke.
We were particularly taken by meeting people at the unregistered, wild camp called Bablo. Here there was no NGOs or government support, hence it was known as an unofficial, wild camp. The camp hosted people of mixed religions, with Muslims and Yazidi people living there in harmony, and there were internally displaced people from all over Iraq but mainly from Shingal and Bashiqa.
People spoke about how they had to flee their homes for safety and had been in this camp for three years. They were waiting for their home areas to be liberated so they could go back.
Tents were basic. I only saw four toilets and there were no showers, so people use buckets of water to bathe. They told me they had built a lot of the structures themselves over the years.
Some people had cars which they had fled in, from their homes.
Ruhi says: ‘The camp leader was a friendly, kind faced gentleman who told us he was a teacher in Shingal. You could tell he was, from how organised he was. He invited us for a meeting with chai and showed us a register he had made of every person in the camp. Having this support made our job easier and any distributions we were able to do, more efficient. In fact, he and his committee helped us with the aid distribution.
He told us the sad story of how he walked twelve days from Shingal to escape the ISIS attack. He said about 45 members of his family including his brothers, sisters and their families all left together. At one point just as he passed the rest of his family were stopped and captured. He said he couldn’t even stop for them. He couldn’t stop for people he loved. Imagine being in that position. Since then, some family members have been freed, some still in ISIS captivity and some with no trace.’
RBB were able to do a distribution of food to all the 500 people (44 families) living in Bablo Camp which included: rice, oil, tea, milk, and tomato paste. We also provided toys and mobile phones (donated and bought over from England), medical aid and food supplies to people in apartments and other camps who were on the increased risk list of the organisation we partnered with.
As there was rising tensions between Kurdistan and Iraq from a recent referendum, Erbil airport was due to close and flights banned, therefore we left before we could have been stuck there.
However, from the UK we continued to support Bablo Camp, by raising funds so our partners on the ground could do a distribution of hygiene products. We also collected and sent 600 KG of winter aid to this area distributed by our partners on the ground to the Yazidi people still in Shingal.