As December is starting, the number of Syrian refugees living in Iraq has reached over 208,000 people. This population is far greater than anyone had ever anticipated, and the refugee camps located in Iraq are struggling to accommodate these hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The six permanent camps in Iraq are extremely overcrowded, as they have received a populations of refugees over 300 percent of their capacity. The United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR), the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and other organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children, and Mercy Corps are currently working hard to provide better living conditions for Syrian refugees. However, a lack of adequate funding continues to be a huge problem. The United Nations has made an appeal for funds to support Syrian refugees, stating that $5 billion is necessary to provide adequate assistance to these refugees, but this goal is nowhere close to being met. Regarding Iraq, this lack of funding means that the UNHCR only has 45% of the funds it needs to care for the 208,000 Syrian refugees
While Syrian refugees already face harsh living conditions, the situation will only continue to deteriorate as winter approaches. Along with dropping temperatures, one of the biggest challenges that
these camps will have to deal with is the flooding that comes with winter snow and rain. The tents which serve as the main form of shelter for refugees living in these camps provide no protection from the flooding. The UNHCR has begun efforts to build concrete foundations in the Darashakran camp and parts of Domiz in preparation for winter weather. Unfortunately, Darashakran has a planned capacity set at 10,000 refugees and concrete foundations will only be built in parts of Domiz. Thus far, only 37 per cent of the planned 15,190 family tents have concrete slabs. For those tents that have not yet been outfitted with concrete foundations, they have been temporarily fitted with a polystyrene board covered with felt, which will provide a level of protection from the ground.
The UNHCR is also planning other winterization efforts in contingency with other organizations, including the distribution of mattresses, stoves, kerosene, and warm clothing. However, so far 66% of refugees living in camps and only 16% of those living outside of camps have received winter items. The task at hand will continue to be difficult due to a lack of funding. Even with the recent two million dollar donation from the Big Heart Campaign, the UNHCR still struggles with limited monetary capabilities. Without an increase in aid at the international level, there will not be adequate resources to provide winterization supplies to all of the refugees currently living in Iraq.
Without proper winterization of these six refugee camps, the 208,000 Syrian refugees living in Iraqi camps face the possibility of their shelters being destroyed and falling victim to variety of health problems in the coming months. With conditions as they currently are, the camps will not be able to withstand the winter weather, which will create an even more severe situation for refugees. The international community must step up its aid to ensure that Syrian refugees in Iraq and other countries have the necessary supplies live comfortably during the harsh winter months. If you have not yet done so, please join us in urging President Obama to renew the US’s commitment to Iraq, including increased humanitarian aid to help support refugees living in Iraq.