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Field Diary from Domiz Refugee Camp

UNICEF’s Karin Ulin is blogging from the Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq.

After more than a year in South Sudan working with UNICEF’s Child Protection team, I was ready for a new mission. And like many others, I have been following the situation in Syria and was devastated by the effects of the crisis on children and women within Syria as well as in surrounding countries. So here I am as a UNICEF emergency specialist—I have arrived in Dohuk city.

Safa, 3, gets his face washed by his sister at the Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq. UNICEF has recently helped secure safe drinking water for almost 20,000 people in the camp.

Safa, 3, gets his face washed by his sister at the Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq. UNICEF has recently helped secure safe drinking water for almost 20,000 people in the camp. © UNICEF/Iraq 2013/Salam Abdulmunem

Dohuk is a wonderful city surrounded by mountains in northeastern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Just 20 minutes away, is Domiz refugee camp. The camp hosts almost 40,000 refugees from Syria. Today, there are nearly 130,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, most of them in the Kurdistan region. While 60 percent of the refugees are residing in host communities, 40 percent are in two existing camps, of which Domiz is the biggest.

Domiz is a dense camp full of tents and people everywhere. Children run up to the cars to sell water, chewing gum, cigarettes. I recall one of my briefings where my Child Protection colleague told me about the concerns of child labor in Domiz, and I immediately saw the conditions of these children as I arrived. This is something we have to work on.

I visit the camp every day to familiarize myself with the many UNICEF-supported activities. This week, while visiting the child-friendly space, I met the wonderful volunteers and staff who are organizing recreational and social activities for children. The children play music, sports, games and draw pictures. They enjoy themselves, laugh and have fun.

Drawing by Reeva, at Domiz refugee camp. © UNICEF/Iraq 2013

Drawing by Reeva, at Domiz refugee camp. © UNICEF/Iraq 2013

The child-friendly space gives them a moment to forget what has happened, and allows them to be children. I saw their drawings of what they have fled in Syria, and could not help but feel tears in my eyes. The drawings describe the hardship and atrocity they have gone through. One of the drawings I saw showed a person killing another, with blood running out his heart. Another depicted explosions and tanks shooting at a village, and blood running from a person shot by the soldier. Another one was of a sad boy who just arrived in the camp (have a look, it’s on our Facebook page). No child should experience such brutality of war. No child should go through anything like this in their lives.

After the Child Friendly Spaces, I visited the schools. There are currently two schools in Domiz camp providing education for more than 2,100 children. The schools are overcrowded and are quickly being run down. This week, UNICEF and partners were rehabilitating the biggest of them, Qamishlu School, by repairing the water access points and toilets, as well as cleaning the area, which used to be full of garbage. The school now looks much more dignified and ready to welcome the enthusiastic children.

When I went to visit the other school, KAR school, I met a girl just outside of the building. She asked, ”Where do I enroll to go to school? I want to go to school!” Unfortunately, both schools are full at the moment due to the high number of children and limited space, but with a new third school opening shortly, more children will soon have access to education. So I am hopeful that this little girl will soon be joining the school.

Syrian children at the KAR primary school at the Domiz refugee camp with UNICEF staff. © UNICEF/Iraq 2013/Salam Abdulmunem

Syrian children at the KAR primary school at the Domiz refugee camp with UNICEF staff. © UNICEF/Iraq 2013/Salam Abdulmunem

Otherwise, a successful mass vaccination campaign took place in the camp this week . The campaign was organized by the Directorate of Health in Dohuk with the support of Médecins Sans Frontières and UNICEF. In total, 19,303 people between 6 months to 30 years were vaccinated against measles, while 17,663 people aged 2-30 years were vaccinated against meningitis. I visited the campaign every day, met children who were crying from the pain of the needles and also children who proudly told me that they did not cry.

My first week has been filled with new impressions and encounters. Now I am even more motivated to try supporting the children and their families so they can get back some degree of normalcy and feel hope for the future again.

There is still a long way to go, but seeing the smiles on the children’s faces, I am more hopeful for the bright future they deserve.

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