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Thousands of Syrian refugees arrive in Iraq

Jerome Seregni, international UN Volunteer, assisting with food and non-food items distribution to refugees. (Photo: T. Muftic, UNHCR 2012)Jerome Seregni, international UN Volunteer, assisting with food and non-food items distribution to refugees. (Photo: T. Muftic, UNHCR 2012)
20 November 2012

Dohuk, Iraq: She's only four years old, but Syrian refugee Magi can't shake off the sounds and images of war that forced her family to flee the embattled northern city of Aleppo and seek shelter in northern Iraq.

"I can't sleep at night; I still have images of soldiers shooting from the roofs of the buildings," whispered the traumatized young girl in her family's tent at the Domiz refugee camp in Dohuk governorate. "There was rocket fire everywhere and we were really scared," added her mother, Rojin.

"There were power cuts all the time in our building and prices went up significantly," she continued. "It was impossible to buy bread and oil, shops were always closed and Magi was crying because she was hungry, so we decided to flee the country."

Magi and her mother are among some 34,400 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since the Syrian conflict erupted in March last year. And they continue to come, with an average of 500 people reaching Domiz every day.

Jerome Seregni, a UN Volunteer working with the United Nations High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR), has been reporting cases like this since he arrived in Erbil (Iraq) about seven weeks ago, after almost four years in Tanzania also as a UN Volunteer. Jerome, a UNV Associate Media Publication Officer half Italian half Argentinean, hardly had time to adapt to the new situation and was immediately put on the front line, due to the emergency situation and the increasing daily influx of new arrival from Syria.

“Many of the children arriving suffer from trauma similar to Magi's and struggling to get the horrifying images out of their young minds” states Jerome. “UNHCR met several children in need of professional support as well as participation in social activities to help them cope in their new, unfamiliar environment.”

Such vulnerable cases are of particular concern to UNHCR and the Government of Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRG). They work together to provide support and counseling for children suffering from post-traumatic symptoms such as nightmares, anxiety attacks and painful memories.

Jerome visited Domiz camp on few occasions, where he met with refugees, government partners and NGOs, and the national staff. “They were all very inclusive and very welcoming” the UN Volunteer says. In Domiz, UNHCR identifies cases of traumatized children and refers them to the camp's mental health unit, which is run by the KRG's department of health. Here, experts provide psychological counseling and support to the children and their families as well as follow up on their mental health situations.

While her husband is seeking work in Dohuk, Magi’s anxious mother said she hoped life in the camp would help her child soon forget the trauma of war. “We will never return”, she added.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq continues to welcome Syrian Kurdish refugees and facilitate their integration and freedom of movement by issuing residency permits and providing access to public services.

As of early November, some 44,000 Syrian refugees have been registered in Iraq's Kurdistan Region. Duhok governorate hosts the largest number with more than 27,000 people, followed by Erbil (5,852) and Suleimaniya (1,683).

(Based on an article written by Jerome Seregni, UNV Associate Media Publication Officer.)

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Bio: Jerome Seregni, Italian/Argentinean, worked for 3 years and 8 months as a UN Volunteer in Tanzania with UNHCR as an Mass Information and External Relations Officer until he was sent to the Kurdistan region seven weeks ago. From Dohuk (Iraq), he reports on the arrival of Syrian refugees to the refugee camps.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)