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Rudaw

Iraq

Struggling against winter cold: Life inside Debega camp

By Judit Neurink 2/12/2016
Tineke Ceelen, director of the Dutch Refugee Foundation and staff from IRC and the Barzani Foundation talking to a 22-year-old IDP woman and her two-year-old baby at Debaga camp. Photo by author
Tineke Ceelen, director of the Dutch Refugee Foundation and staff from IRC and the Barzani Foundation talking to a 22-year-old IDP woman and her two-year-old baby at Debaga camp. Photo by author

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The young woman holds her sleeping baby tight; the little girl is ill, because of the cold wave that has suddenly set in, and because they have had to sleep on the floor, she says.


The 22-year-old mother from Qaraj, near Makhmour who has been in the camp for less than a month, says her little Sabrina is two years old, but with a pacifier in her mouth and bundled up in a small blanket she looks a lot younger.


On top of the cold the baby is dealing with the consequences of a malnutrition she suffered under ISIS. Her mother searched for baby milk from village to village for almost a year, and this has left its mark on her and her two children.


Baby milk is still scarce, so is nappies, warm clothes and bedding.


“I stay with my husband’s family, and they have everything, I have nothing,” she complains.


Tineke Ceelen, director of the Dutch Refugee Foundation, is visiting the Debaga Camp for IDPs with staff from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) whom she works with.


When Ceelen turns to camp manager Ehmed Ebdo, he says she should be helped at the local clinic with most of her needs, where a special service is opened for children suffering from malnutrition.


He cannot help her, for if he favors any IDP over another, the message will travel fast and the other 32,000 inhabitants will be at his door right away.


Ebdo, who works for the Barzani Foundation that manages the Debaga camp, says he is struggling with the change of weather, as most of the camp is made up of tents which are open to strong winds. “Almost daily, people come to tell us that their tent has been blown away.”


His proposed solution for this winter is “To change the tents to shelters. Tents are not fit for the winter.”


The main supplier of non-food items is the UN refugee agency UNHCR, which appears to have its own shortage of winter necessities.


 “They only have half rations, so for a family of ten persons, they have five mattresses and blankets,” Ebdo says, “it’s a gap that needs to be filled, and we are looking if other partners can help.”


One day this week kerosene fuel was handed out in parts of the camp, but they had to wait for the heaters to come in the next day. Thus living another cold night.


Ceelen said that in a new but already full camp for Mosul IDPs she had visited the day before the situation was the other way around. People had heaters but not yet kerosene.


IRC-country director Aleksandar Milutinovic, who accompanies her, is annoyed with Ebdo: “Why did you not contact us, we have a warehouse full of goods, and we can bring you anything you want. The blankets and mattresses, but also the nappies that this lady is asking for.”


With Dutch money, IRC has already been stocking up for two months on all goods needed for the IDPs who would be fleeing from Mosul, and Ceelen is visiting to see if the money was well spent.


“After I was here two months ago, we made half a million euros available from donations from the Dutch public in preparation for the Mosul offensive.”Ceelen said.


It was the first time, she added, “to take money from our reserves for something that is not happening yet. But I saw all signs that this was going to be a big crisis with huge numbers of refugees, that this country cannot really handle on top of everything else.”


But coordination and communication between the aid-organizations is vital to make sure the goods reach those who need it most.


And walking through the camp, the problem appears to mainly affect people who have been here for a while, but were moved to a recently opened section with new tents.


Mahmoud, 40, who fled from the village of Haj Ali six months ago when he completely ran out of money was moved to the new section and he is now the head of the 614 new tents.


“We need winter items,” he says about his family, “we do not have a heater, and for seven persons we only have five mattresses and four blankets.”


In the opposite tent, 16-year old Ali from Hawija is waiting for his parents to come back from a visit to another part of the camp.


“We borrowed mattresses from relatives. Last night we had to heat the tent with the cooking stove.”Ali said.


UNHCR Spokeswoman Caroline Gluck explained that the shortages at this camp were only temporary and that they have since been replenished.


 “Newcomers to the camp are still receiving a full package of assistance and there have been no cutbacks in assistance and no change in policy.” Gluck maintained.

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