31 December 2014
In Iraq, people forced from their homes by violence face even more hardship in the months ahead.
People who left their homes over the summer may have fled in 47 degree heat, but soon temperatures will probably dip below zero.
Many people were unable to bring blankets and winter clothing with them.
Red Cross aid worker Cyril Stein has just spent three months working with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society helping people in Kurdistan – a northern region of Iraq that is sheltering about 900,000 people forced from their homes elsewhere in the country.
Cyril says these people were more focussed on day-to-day survival than the coming winter. But even with the worst weather yet to come, they were asking for more clothes and blankets.
The 34-year-old from Montreal saw people living in camps, schools and “skeletons” – unfinished buildings, where different stories are separated only by concrete pillars.
Even if someone started building the walls tomorrow, they wouldn’t be finished by the time the worst of the winter arrived.
He says that health clinics are also expecting a rise in respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia, over winter.
For months the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has been giving vital help to people affected by the fighting – including food, hygiene kits, blankets, kitchen sets, clean water, tents and tarpaulins.
The British Red Cross has already pledged more than £100,000 to buy blankets this winter. But more help is urgently needed.
Cyril praised the way local people had welcomed the new arrivals, and also the Iraqi Red Crescent Society and its dedicated volunteers who, with support from partners including the British Red Cross, have been delivering crucial support since the violence began.
They are often the first humanitarian organisation to greet those displaced by fighting with food and water.
He says: “I was amazed by their work. There was a lot of courage and determination.”
With no end to the conflict in sight, this courage will continue to be tested. In October, fighting forced thousands of people who had fled from Iraq to Turkey to move again – this time to the Kurdish Region of Iraq.
As winter draws in, new arrivals and those who came over the summer face a dangerous few months.