A- | A | A+
November 20, 2014

Refugees need our help to survive the winter

In August, around 630,000 people were forced to run for their lives with scarcely more than the clothes on their backs. In an eight-day journey by foot they fled from Syria through the Sinjar Mountains to the Kurdish Dohuk Province in Iraq. The group attempting to escape the terror of Islamic State militia included Yazidis, Christians, Turkmens and a great many Arabs.

Yazidi women released or ransomed by their families from IS imprisonment mourn their murdered sons, husbands, fathers and grandfathers. They are plagued by nightmares and fraught with uncertainty and doubt whether they will ever see their sisters and mothers, abducted by IS, again. Their reports testify to repeated and systematic patterns of complicity and support for IS, such as immediate neighbours who betrayed Yazidi and Christian minorities to IS, or the family next door who stole their belongings. Young men, recruits to Islamic State, put guns to the heads of women and young girls, forcing them to convert to Islam, subjecting them to physical abuse and rape. Arab families compell captive Yazidis or Christians to call their relatives back home with ransom demands so that the girls’ families can effect their release. It is the sheer extent of this complicity that I find so disturbing, collaboration by numerous, very different sections of the civilian population; I would have never thought this could assume such proportions.

The Kurdish autonomous region is completely overwhelmed by the huge flow of refugees, which now also includes refugees from Kobane. The majority of refugees live in tents, most of which are not designed to withstand winter conditions. There is a lack of winter clothing, adequate washing and sanitary facilities and warm blankets. Separate sanitary facilities for men and women are rare, there are no schools and hardly any opportunities for employment. Most of the food for refugees is provided by the government of the Kurdish Prime Minister Massoud Barzani. Some tents, blankets, clothing and sanitary facilities are provided by various international aid agencies. However, aid workers criticise the lack of coordination and bureaucracy.

The Yazidis' history of genocide is one of long-standing discrimination policies and systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq - not only during Saddam Hussein's time in power, but also in the time following the Iraq War and the subsequent US occupation. There is no ‘single right answer’ to the question of how to end the extreme human rights abuses by IS in the near future. But any military solution will invariably lead to a dead-end at best, and could even boomerang by generating further terrorist groups.

The conflict in Iraq and the affected region is exceptionally complex: It encompasses numerous inter-related sub-conflicts, as well as being interwoven with other regional and global conflicts over oil and natural gas, and other mineral resources. Also involved is the issue of regional supremacy which is being vied for by the Sunni-dominated regional powers Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey on the one hand, and the Shia-Alawite dominated regional powers of Iran, Iraq and Syria on the other. At the same time, a US-led NATO alliance is competing with Russia and China for global supremacy.

We, as a medical peace organisation, call above all for the German emergency relief fund to be doubled from the current €50 million to €100 million in 2014. Substantial financial support is also necessary for psychological and social care of traumatised refugees. Finally, a significant increase in the number of Iraqi and Syrian war refugees currently being allowed into Germany and the EU is essential.


Dr. Angelika Claußen is a doctor of psychiatry and psychotherapy and a member of the medical peace organisation IPPNW. From 8-17 October 2014 she visited refugee camps in the area around the Kurdish cities of Dohuk and Erbil.


Animated Short Film about DU by ICBUW and PaxChristi

click to watch the video in IPPNW's youtube channel