The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, Christoph Strässer, travelled to northern Iraq on 13 and 14 December to gain an insight into the preparations for the protection of the refugees from the upcoming winter. Before his departure, he announced that the Federal Government would increase its winter relief, providing a further five million euros.
Commenting on this, Strässer said that Germany had already provided a great deal of support to the internally displaced persons and refugees in Iraq – yet the people still needed accommodation which could withstand the winter. “We have therefore decided to make a further five million euros available to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),” said Strässer.
Medium to long-term engagement
Nonetheless, a supply of water and sanitation, food aid and schooling for refugee children also remained priorities. It was an important step for the children that the school year was continuing in the refugee camps. “We must not allow there to be a lost generation,” said Strässer, adding: “We must gear our engagement to the medium to long term. The people will still urgently need our help next year.”
In northern Iraq Strässer visited aid projects in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah and met representatives of UN organisations and civil society as well as local politicians in order to gain an insight into the preparations for the winter.
Talks with internally displaced persons and refugees
Accompanied by the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), Strässer visited a healthcare centre run by the relief agency Malteser International in Ankawa, a neighbourhood in Erbil. Doctors, nurses and pharmacists work there on a voluntary basis – they treat refugees who have fallen ill, providing the medicine they require free of charge.
In Sulaymaniyah, Strässer saw how the aid organisations present on the ground (amongst others, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, the Diakonie, the UNHCR and the International Red Cross) are winter-proofing the emergency accommodation and distributing hygiene kits to internally displaced persons. The Human Rights Commissioner also visited the Arbat refugee camp where up to 10,000 Syrian refugees are set to be housed. Here, he also spoke to aid organisation staff as well as to internally displaced persons and refugees. Following his visit he said:
The preparations for winter are in full swing. The necessary equipment is being set up or distributed in the camps. It is already bitterly cold. For most of the people, the worst of the winter is yet to come, so further support is urgently needed.
When he met project leaders, Strässer was informed about the logistical challenges and the expectations of the international community. He also praised the population’s incredible willingness to help and take people in; the high number of refugees has placed a great strain on them. In Iraq, there are currently 5.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid, of whom 2.1 million are internally displaced.