Displaced at two weeks old, Rahav finds safety in Iraq's newest camp

News Stories, 3 September 2014

© UNHCR/E.Colt
Chenar and her family, including month-old Rahav, in a new tent in Khanke, Iraqi Kurdistan after fleeing their home in northern Iraq.

KHANKE VILLAGE, Iraq, September 3 (UNHCR) One-month-old Rahav has spent most of her short life on the move. A fortnight after she was born, her parents joined thousands of other families from the Yazidi ethnic minority fleeing their homes after armed groups captured the northern Iraqi city of Sinjar in early August.

Wrapped in a headscarf and sleeping peacefully in a broken wooden cradle, she appears blissfully unaware of the ordeal her family has been through. But as her mother Chenar watches over the baby and recounts their flight, the strain of the past several weeks is apparent.

"At 2a.m. they started attacking our village," she tells visitors from UNHCR, as she sits on the concrete floor of an old building where her family has been living since the middle of August. "So we escaped. We left our homes and ended up here."

Chenar and her husband Naif are among the latest to find shelter in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. They will soon move to a new camp, currently home to 650 families and one of nine set up to provide safety and shelter to the 1.8 million people displaced inside Iraq this year. As more and more Iraqis flee worsening violence in the country, another six such camps are planned.

Chenar had a harrowing journey. After deciding to flee, she and Naif loaded Rahav and two young sons into their car, together with her father-in-law. They spent the next week driving from town to town in search of safety. At one point, their battered vehicle broke down and Chenar was forced to sell her jewellery to pay for the repairs so they could continue their escape.

"We had a very difficult journey. For three days we had no water and no food," she says. "The whole way until I ended up here I used to use an empty tomato crate for my baby to sleep in."

They finally reached the village of Khanke in Iraq's Kurdistan region, safe but destitute. Since then they have been living in the courtyard of a local public building with several other Yazidi families. They spend their days huddled under a corrugated iron awning to protect them from the fierce summer heat.

"When we arrived in Khanke, there was no one to help us," she says. "We slept on the bare floor, there were no toilets and we did not have water. We had to bathe in neighbours' houses."

Life in the courtyard has been a struggle. As a result, Chenar is pleased to learn that they have been allocated a place at a new camp in Khanke where they will receive a tent, mattresses, blankets and other essentials provided by UNHCR.

Work is under way to provide each tent with electricity and families with their own drinking water supply and sanitary facilities, but for now the camp at least offers more privacy than the courtyard.

"I'm not sure how life there will be, but I'm sure that it's going to be better than this place," says Chenar. Her biggest worry is how the family will cope during the coming winter, when temperatures plunge and heavy rainfall is common. Work has already begun a few hundred metres away to construct new tent foundations with concrete floors and walls that will offer greater protection during winter.

Later, after the family has moved with their few possessions into the new tent, Chenar busies herself, settling Rahav down and sprinkling water outside to keep the dust from blowing in. But her father-in-law sits cross-legged in a corner, buries his face in his hands and begins to weep.

"We all have the same pain, but my father-in-law is really heartbroken," she says. "Every time he looks around and sees us in this situation and in this place, he starts crying."

By Charlie Dunmore in Khanke Village, Iraq