This week sees disaster relief charity ShelterBox back in the Syrian border territories of Iraq Kurdistan, where it helped establish refugee camps up to three years ago. Team leader Sam Hewett and colleague Jack Bailey have only recently returned from providing respite shelter on the Greek islands.
When you work for Cornwall-based international disaster relief charity ShelterBox you get to experience all aspects of the refugee crisis, from its origins in the Middle East to its impact on the borders of Europe. Two people who have both perspectives are Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett and response volunteer Jack Bailey. They have just returned from the Greek island of Lesbos, where they were improving conditions in transit camps that were becoming overwhelmed with refugees arriving from the Turkish coast.
Now Sam and Jack find themselves at one of the sources of this migration, talking to refugee families and colleague aid agencies at camps in Iraq Kurdistan, a short distance from the Syrian border. Daytime temperatures here can be forty degrees plus, but soon the winter cold will be an issue.
The ShelterBox team is in the area to monitor the state of refugee camps and to plan working partnerships with other international aid agencies such as ACTED. They will be checking conditions on sites, and are being briefed on the ever-changing security situation in this, one of the world’s most volatile conflict zones. For security reasons their actual working locations are not being identified here.
Sam says, ‘‘We’re here to meet our partners in the region, to monitor and evaluate the work we’ve been doing here and to identify areas for improvement. We also plan to explore what the shelter needs and capacities are in the region, and then assess whether there are gaps that we might be able to fill in the provision of shelter to people displaced by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.’
People’s need for even the most basic shelter stretches across Syria’s neighbours, and now into Europe. And so ShelterBox must stretch across this long route to support people who need assistance.
‘From our initial investigations in Iraq it’s clear that there are still people here who have been displaced from Syria for several years, as well as those who have been displaced more recently by the rise of Islamic State in a part of the world that has already taken in well over a million people. This is a great contrast to our work on Lesbos, which was about providing respite and shade for a population very much on the move, where no refugees stayed for very long.’
ShelterBox has stock already prepositioned in Iraq and is working with ACTED to establish a new camp to provide shelter for internally displaced people. More than 2,500 tents, along with various items such as sets of hats, gloves and scarves in preparation for colder weather, have now been sent into the region. Around 2,200 of these tents have already been distributed.
Sam adds, ‘We have only just returned to Iraq so it is early days on this deployment, but I’m sure it will identify some big tasks. We are pleased to be partnering with long-term colleagues ACTED, and with new friends such as the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).’
The Canadian government aims to resettle 10,000 refugees by September 2016. It has also pledged to spend up to $100 million on aid to address the crisis. The United Nations estimates that at least $4.4 billion is needed to respond to the needs of Syrian refugees. ShelterBox, however, relies entirely on donations from its supporters, and does not receive any government funding.