Huge challenge to support refugees

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Situated about 60km from the Syrian border, Domiz refugee camp is now ‘home’ to 75,000 Syrian refugees.

It stretches far away to the horizon. With few expecting the refugees to go home soon, many structures are semi permanent, built with breeze blocks with plastic sheeting or cloth for roofs.

I walked through the camp on a pitted and uneven road - no more than flattened mud. Dusty when dry it soon turns to mud in the rain. In November it is still warm but soon it will get cold followed by snow. Around 13,000 children live in the camp, and the four existing schools struggle to provide enough places. A typical class has around 24 children. I found they were learning English. The teacher asked “How are you?” and in loud confident voices the children chanted “I am fine thank you.”

Of course they are not fine. Children playing around the camp are clean, they smile and wave like children anywhere. But they left their homes, possibly after suffering bombing and the loss of family members. Some will not know where their father and brothers are, whether alive or dead.

Surprisingly none of the children were begging, just greeting us with a wary curiosity. With my basic Arabic I spoke to two young sisters. When I showed them a photo of the three of us their serious faces broke out in smiles and they ran to tell their friends.

During the day the camp is bustling, but with few lights at night it can be a scary place. Near the camp entrance is the child protection unit carrying a UKAID logo to show it has been funded from our International Development Department. The unit is run by UNICEF and they are about to launch a telephone number that children can ring with any problem.

The Kurdistan region has been at pains to welcome Syrian refugees, and the UN High Commission for Refugees has described the hospitality provided by the Kurdistan Government and the people of Iraq as extraordinary.

The Domiz camp may turn into another of the long lasting camps. In the meantime the challenges are huge – improving living conditionsfor the displaced, traumatised population. Britain has already committed a large amount to Syrian refugees.I fear it will need to be much more.

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