It’s been a year since Qasim left his home in Sinjar, Iraq. He was fleeing an advance by the Islamic State — the same advance that left tens of thousands of other Yazidis stranded in the mountains, trapped between hunger and dehydration and the threat of mass violence.
Qasim and his parents and three brothers, along with their wives and children, were able to get away from Sinjar, to a crowded camp for displaced people, and then into the Kurdish-controlled area of Iraq. To protect his family’s security, Qasim’s last name is not being used.
Back in Sinjar, life had been good. The families made a living from the farms and shops they owned. They lived close to each other in the village.
After being displaced, all 29 members of Qasim’s extended family lived together for 10 months in an unfinished building owned by a friend near the city of Erbil. The roof leaked. Floors were wet. Mold grew on the walls, and there was no source of water.
Now the families are able to rent two apartments near Erbil because of a rent-assistance project carried out by the Mennonite Central Committee partner Rehabilitation, Education and Community Health, or REACH. The project provides monthly rent allowances for about 570 households in Erbil and Kirkuk, using a $1.55 million grant given to MCC by the Canadian government.
In both cities, many displaced people live in unfinished houses, said Hawkar Aziz, project manager with REACH.
“No doors, no windows, bad sanitation, no water,” he said. “As well as no furniture, no property, because they came with nothing.”
Building a new life
For Qasim and his family, the rent assistance is one step toward building a new life. The news they hear from Sinjar is bad, so they hope to find work and stay in Erbil. They hope to register their children in an Arabic-language school this year.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s better than anything else,” Qasim said.
Two other Canadian government grants are also supporting MCC’s response to the Syria and Iraq crisis.
In Iraq, a $976,000 grant is providing essential items to displaced families. More than 1,960 households are receiving locally purchased kitchen supplies, water filters and hygiene kits.
The project is being implemented by the MCC partner Première Urgence Internationale — Aide Médicale Internationale and will also provide training on sanitation and hygiene practices.
In Syria, a $1.19 million grant is providing children’s clothing, hygiene kits and feminine hygiene supplies to 4,300 households, distributed by the MCC partner Middle East Council of Churches in Daraa Province.
Since 2012, MCC has responded to the conflict with more than $30 million in relief, education, peacebuilding and trauma support for people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.