ANN Ward, an emergency programme consultant for Christian
Aid, has been based in the Middle East for eight years, and Iraq
for five. The recent crisis in Iraq is, she says, "the most
horrendous thing I have ever seen".
Speaking on Tuesday from her home in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan,
she spoke about the "monumental" scale of the suffering in the
country, the "empty hopelessness" she sensed among Iraqi
Christians, but also the "wonderful" generosity of the Kurds, and
the "huge mobilisation" of local volunteers.
"I come from a non-violence background, and even I have
struggled with this sense of 'Somebody stop ISIS', because they are
so brutal," she said. "The savagery is so abysmal. . . How does one
stop such savagery? It does not seem to be able to be mediated,
because they are so ferocious."
The influx of Iraqis fleeing ISIS was unimaginable, she said.
"Families are looking for tents to live in, because they cannot
find a house, or they can't afford it. It's just overwhelming
numbers of people with nothing."
This week, the UN reported that the number of internally
displaced people within the country had reached 1.8 million.
Christian Aid's partner REACH is providing food and other items,
and in the next month will be distributing "winterisation kits", a
task frustrated by the fluid nature of the displaced population. It
is also providing health and hygiene services, and offering
vocational training, small business development, and a youth centre
offering children's education and arts services.
Both Yazidis and Christians had been welcomed by the Kurish
regional government, which was "quite nervous for good reason"
about the arrival of militants, Ms Ward said. "Arabs are not nearly
as welcome, and have a lot more security to get into
The "great nationalistic fervour" that had surged in Kurdistan
at the beginning of the internal conflict, as the armed Kurdish
fighters - the Peshmerga - filled the security gap, had died down,
she suggested, perhaps as a result of the formation of a new
transitional government and international diplomacy.
Ms Ward said that she had been "very moved and impressed" by the
groundswell of Kurdish groups who were organising to help the new
arrivals. She gave the example of a church in Kirkuk which had
delivered a "monstrous truck of clothes" to Sulaymaniyah. "There is
huge mobilisation of groups who are supporting and helping through
She said that this spirit of humanitarianism extended to the
cause of the Syrian refugee population, which now numbers 23,855 in
Sulaymaniyah, UN figures suggest. Christian Aid's partner Asuda,
which is dedicated to tackling gender-based violence, has set up a
resource centre, and is providing legal, psychological, and
social-work support for women from the Syrian refugee community. It
is currently engaged in a "major trust-building exercise", going
from door to door to interview women about their experiences. It is
working with community leaders to address issues such as reports of
taxi drivers' harrassing Syrian women.
"It's [gender-based violence and abuse] quite shaming for any
culture," Ms Ward said. "We are very carefully coming at it from a
protection standpoint of saying that women have a right to live in
safety and go to markets without being harrassed."
Attention from men in the street was "much more threatening to
young women from outside the culture. . . I don't think it is a
Kurdish/Syrian thing; it's a male/female thing." She paid tribute
to the three male Kurdish volunteers at the centre, who had come to
ununderstand the dynamics of gender-based violence by reflecting on
their own experiences of discrimination as a minority.
Asked about the impact of the crisis on people's faith, Ms Ward
said that people continued to cite their faith in God as the source
of their strength, but that she had sensed "such empty
hopelessness" in her visits to church. "I know that there are so
many Christians I talk to who are ready to leave. They need safety.
They are tired of this persecution."