Iraq: Frightened, fleeing and separated from loved ones
By Evan Schuurman, Save the Children Media Manager in Iraq
In the middle of the school playground, where games of football and hopscotch were once played, tables and chairs are piled on top of one another.
Some are stacked high into the air, resembling a small mountain rather than furniture for learning.
Inside there are people everywhere.
Chaos in the school
Children wander around looking for something to do, parents sit and wait. There are also a handful of Save the Children Child Protection staff who are going from school to school to register unaccompanied minors, as well as parents who have been separated from their children.
I am led along an empty corridor, which no doubt was once bustling with uniformed students going from class to class.
Finally we reach the family we have come to speak to – Dunya*, a widow, and her five children who just weeks ago thought they would never see each other again.
The children, aged between five and 16, look at me with wide eyes.
Through a translator, Dunya tells me about the night the militants came, which ended with hundreds massacred, about 200,000 of her people, the Yazidis, homeless and their beloved city of Sinjar under the control of an armed group.
She had spent the evening with her two youngest children at her parent’s house just outside of Sinjar while her eldest three stayed with their uncle Masum* on the other side of town.
At about 3am there was gunfire and shelling from all directions.
Fleeing to safety
They fled immediately, driving to the Syrian border where their long, draining journey to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq began.
Meanwhile, Masum was fleeing on foot with his wife and their three children, aged between one and five, and with Dunya’s other three children as well.
They walked to Syria – it took them 24 hours, through searing heat. Two weeks later, he still has blisters on his feet from the journey.
They carried the youngest children the entire way.
More than a week with no news of her children
Dunya says she went more than a week without hearing from her family, as her side made it to the small town of Shariya outside Dohuk. She thought she’d never see her children again.
Then she smiles and holds her youngest daughter tightly – I can tell she’s getting to the happy part of her harrowing story.
She found them.
Dunya tells me her children were registered as part of Save the Children’s family reunification programme. Field workers started inquiries to trace their mother and the other siblings.
But even before that could happen, through a relative she bumped into, she was given a number to call her brother.
He picked up the phone, and her children were only a few kilometres away.
“I was really happy,” Dunya said. “I was shocked that I met them again, I remember running to them, kissing them, and crying.”
*Names changed to protect identities