WFP Mobilizes Food As Syrians Stream Into Iraq

Salma, a mother of four, was among thousands of Syrians who has crossed the border into Iraq this month in search shelter, food and safety. Copyright: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Food for up to 185,000 people is on its way to northern Iraq where asylum-seekers from Syria are streaming across the border by the thousands in the single largest outpouring of refugees since the conflict began. Salma and Rushda are two mothers who made the arduous journey with their children.

ERBIL—Syrian families arrive by the busload at Kawrgosk camp, a forest of tents which have all sprung up in the last few days to accommodate an unprecedented tide of refugees into Iraq.
Some 37,000 people have poured across the border in just a week, the single largest movement of refugees from Syria since the conflict began two years ago.

Salma, a mother of four, said it took her family more than 18 hours to reach the camp—some of the journey on foot. “For five days, I didn’t shower or wash myself before prayers and it is so hard on the kids. We’re not used to this. What will happen to us?” she asked.

After their journey, Salma and her family arrived exhausted and hungry at the camp, where they received a welcome ration from WFP. Over the coming weeks, they’ll continue to receive assistance as WFP dispatches enough to feed as many as 185,000 people for a month.

Starting from scratch

Salma used to live in Damascus and fled to Qamishly, in northeastern Syria, to get away from the fighting. They’d been there for almost a year and managed to build something resembling a home when the fighting arrived there as well.

“We were caught in the crossfire and had no option but to leave as soon as the border opened. And here we go again. We are starting from scratch,” she said.

The arrival of families like Salma and her husband brings the total number of Syrian refugees in Iraq to over 192,000, with more on the way. Between 4,500 and 13,500 Syrians have crossed the border every day for the past week.

Among friends

“I am grateful for reaching safety with my family in Iraqi Kurdistan and hope that we can get settled soon,” said Rushda, another mother at the camp. “The sun and heat and the difficult conditions here are nothing like what we faced back home—having nothing and being afraid all the time."

Rushda came to Iraq from Malkia, a camp in northeastern Syria, for people displaced from their homes. For her, the box of welcome rations she received upon arriving in Iraq was a familiar sight.  

“I received the same box back in Syria, so you are our friends wherever we go. I wish you could bring us peace like you send us food,” she said.