They escaped the fighting; now Iraq’s displaced people face another enemy – one they cannot flee: the struggle for survival.
They are homeless, jobless, reliant on the goodwill of host communities whose capacity has already been stretched by the influx of more than 200,000 Syrian refugees.
The UN estimates that 1.45 million people have been displaced in Iraq this year.
Appalling living conditions
Of these, almost 400,000 are living in schools, parks and abandoned buildings in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Around 200,000 of these are children.
They require urgent shelter – both for themselves and for the local children whose schools cannot reopen as long as they are being used as temporary dormitories.
More than 2,000 schools in Iraq are currently housing 52,000 people, delaying the start of the school year until at least October.
40 people in two rooms
In the far east, in Suleimanyah, our staff visited a two-room farmhouse on the outskirts of town, where eight Yazidi families are living. There were more than 40 of them – some sleeping on the roof for lack of space inside.
Electricity was intermittent and they had run out of fuel for cooking.
“While we are thankful to have this farmhouse, the conditions are very bad,” said Mahir*, a father of four who spent six days trapped on Mount Sinjar when armed groups attacked the city of Sinjar on 3 August.
His two brothers were left on the mountain, and he fears they may have been taken by militants.
“We are thinking a lot about our relatives who are not here,” he said. “My nephew and nieces miss their fathers.”
Sleeping on the roof, struggling to get food
Mahir and his family took flour when they fled, but it’s gone now. “We are struggling to survive,” he said. “We sleep on very thin mats on the roof, there are no pillows or blankets.
“We have one small stove for eight families. We don’t have enough water, food, gas or oil.”
Save the Children has distributed food parcels for 2500 people around Suleimanyah, including rice, lentils, tomato paste, cooking oil and tea.
The aid agency has also handed out sleeping and shelter kits to more than 6,600 people.
Resources stretched to breaking point
“The need for food and shelter is dire,” said Tina Yu, Save the Children Iraq Country Director. “Many families have fled their homes fearing for their lives, with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“Host communities are battling to cope with the rapid influx of people and resources are stretched to breaking point.”
Save the Children has reached more than 125,000 displaced people in Iraq this year.
*Name changed to protect identity