UNHCR helps displaced families in northern Iraq

The UN refugee agency helps families displaced in north-eastern Iraq as a brief outbreak of conflict shakes their corner of the country.

A view of UNHCR tents being used by displaced people in north-east Iraq.   © UNHCR/K.Ali

SANGASAR, Iraq, March 18 (UNHCR) - Hussain* managed to lead a quiet life as a farmer and shepherd in north-eastern Iraq as conflict continued to ravage other parts of the country after the second Gulf War of 2003. But late last year, war finally came to his peaceful corner of the country.

On December 6, the 31-year-old widower and his family and neighbours were woken by the sounds of explosions as their village in As Suleimaniyah Governorate came under cross-border artillery and air attack from Iran.

The 23 families in the village fled for their lives as their houses shook, windows shattered and orchards burned. They found shelter overnight in nearby caves and left the following day with a few belongings for the town of Sangasar, leaving behind livestock killed in the onslaught.

Hussain, who has looked after his young daughter since his wife died of lung cancer in 2007, quickly fell into a depression, worried about finding somewhere to live and work and pessimistic about the chances of ever returning to his village.

But the UN refugee agency has helped ease his concerns, and those of his ageing parents. The agency has provided kitchen sets and mattresses to all the displaced families. Hussain is particularly happy with the UNHCR-donated quilts and kerosene heaters, which will keep his family warm in the bitter winter weather.

Meanwhile, Hussain has found shelter and occasional work. "I managed to find a mud-brick house in Sangasar which costs me US$30 a month," he explained, while adding that he paid the rent with part-time work as a construction worker.

But it is still a struggle to make ends meet and he appreciates the help from UNHCR. "The assistance provided by UNHCR came just in time," said Hussain, who could never have afforded to buy items such as heaters. "The plastic sheeting is very useful because the roof leaks whenever it rains."

The UN refugee agency is helping about 150 internally displaced families, or some 900 people, in Sangasar and the surrounding area. The neediest have received food assistance from the local authorities or the International Committee of the Red Cross.

By Kamaran Ali in Sangasar, Iraq