Humanitarian Aid in Kurdistan

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KURDISTAN, Kurdistan — The Kurds are an ethnic group spread across the five different Middle-Eastern countries of Iraq, Armenia, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Historically, they have been discriminated against and have vied for an independent state ever since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. That state has never materialized for the Kurds. Some organizations have stepped up to provide humanitarian aid to Kurdistan.

Conflict in the Middle East

There is currently a population of between 25 and 35 million ethnic Kurds. They are united through language, culture and race. Kurds worship many religions, but the majority are Sunni Muslims. Although they have been involved in numerous conflicts, persecutions and wars in the past century, recently they have gained the most attention for their contributions in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). Many of the IS’ offenses took place in heavily Kurdish areas, so many Kurds took up arms to defend themselves and their territory from the massacres. They were backed by the United States, the Syrian government and the Iraqi government. Turkey, on the other hand, has continued persecuting Kurds.

As recently as October 2019, Turkey launched an offensive into Syria to create a 20 mile “safe zone,” in order to repatriate the Syrian refugees who had fled to Turkey following the turmoil over the past decade. This offensive has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of Kurds and has set back Kurdish progress toward better infrastructure, education and sanitation, much of which had already been damaged due to IS’ offensives.

Aid Away from Home

The war-torn countries of the central Middle-East currently lack the institutions and good governance to adequately care for the Kurds and repair the damage done by years of war and strife. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) have taken it upon themselves to give what aid they can.

The Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC) has provided humanitarian aid in Kurdistan conflict zones for years. The need for its services has only increased along with the number of Kurdish refugees. The KRC provides on-the-ground, intensive support for those in need in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria even in active conflict zones. It gives medical and technical training to those who wish to help, educates Kurds about health and sanitation practices. It also provides emergency medical services to the sick and wounded and gives vaccines to those who are at risk of contracting deadly diseases.

Doctors Without Borders

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, provides health assistance all over the world. Its humanitarian aid in Kurdistan has been ongoing for years with the continuing crises. However, the situation in northeastern Syria has become so dire, it has suspended services there. That does not mean MSF is not providing any service to Kurdish refugees. The charity still operates in northern Iraq and northwestern Syria to provides assistance to refugees who have fled to camps there.

One of MSF’s main focuses is on the mental health of the refugees. In late October 2019, MSF’s mental health manager Bruno Pradal stated, “Roughly 50 percent of the people we saw during our mental health assessment [in the Bardarash camp in northwestern Syria] were presenting symptoms linked to depression and anxiety.” In addition, many of these symptoms showed early signs of suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After the psychological needs of the refugees are determined, they are sent to MSF healthcare centers to receive psychological first-aid. This includes services from professionally-trained psychiatrists and therapy from local counselors.

UNICEF’s Aid in Kurdistan

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has also been active in providing humanitarian assistance in Kurdistan. In one week alone, UNICEF estimates that about 70,000 children have been displaced by the Turkish offensive. Many UNICEF partners are among the displaced as well. Schools where UNICEF operated have been seized for military use, water supply tanks have been destroyed and thousands of homes have been obliterated.

In Hakaseh, northeastern Syria, the international organization is currently providing emergency relief efforts for refugee children and their families. It is providing shelter, 95,000 liters of clean water and thousands of family hygiene kits. In addition to survival needs, UNICEF has also provided thousands of clothing to refugees, which would most likely last them one month.

Hope for the Future

Ultimately, the situation in Kurdistan is dire, especially in northeastern Syria. In order to stop the violence, Syria and Turkey must come to an armistice. In the meantime, humanitarian assistance in Kurdistan means the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of Kurdish families. The work being done by numerous humanitarian organizations has touched the lives of each of these refugees. It will continue to as long as possible, and hopefully, see the end of this conflict.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Wikimedia

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