We Kurds are a nation of refugees who have often been forced to flee our homes. I have taken refuge as a child in an empty school, a flimsy summer shelter, the Kurdish mountains and, eventually, in exile in Britain. As a people, we have endured chemical bombardment, acts of genocide, massacres and oppression. Almost every Kurd I know has been a refugee at least once.
That’s why we are hardwired to help others in the same position. But we are overwhelmed by the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe that has befallen Kurdistan and Iraq. We need urgent help.
About a million Christians, Yazidis, Shias and Sunnis sought sanctuary in Kurdistan in just a few months this summer, joining half a million or so who had come over the past decade to flee violence in the rest of Iraq and Syria. The Kurdistan region of Iraq has a population of five million, similar to Scotland’s. The total number of refugees is like the combined populations of Birmingham and Sheffield fleeing to Scotland.
Many of the internally displaced people – from Mosul, Anbar and nearby areas – fled Islamic State (Isis) terrorists in August with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Schools, churches, construction sites and even roadsides have become makeshift shelters. We are fighting against time to build camps.
We fear that many will have no shelter at all because, even today, we are receiving refugees from Syria and Anbar. Our bitterly cold winter is here already and not every child has a blanket or even a warm jacket. Not every family is sheltered from the cold.
Any country would find it difficult to cope, but we have even more disadvantages to hamper us. For most of this year we have had no budget payments from Baghdad, although a recent deal is beginning to end the economic blockade.
We are asking the British people to lend a hand with the refugees and have set up the Kurdistan Emergency Appeal which will be launched on Monday, 8 December to raise money and send winter items. We have to do the best we can to look after those who have turned to us for help.
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman is the Kurdistan Regional Government’s high representative to the UK.