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An Unlikely Oasis

Internally Displaced Families Find Respite in Debaga and Ashti Camps, Iraq

Story by World Food Programme October 18th, 2016

World Food Programme (WFP) Communications Officer Joelle Eid recently visited displaced families at the Debaga and Ashti camps in northern Iraq, where thousands of people have fled to safety from areas controlled by so-called Islamic State. These are the stories of some of the people Joelle met.


Worsening conflict in and around Mosul is forcing a huge number of people to flee their homes and seek refuge in the Debaga camp in Erbil governorate, northern Iraq. Families also continue to arrive from other insecure areas such as Kirkuk and Salah al-Din governorates.

Eight year old Farah, from Mosul city, fled her hometown by foot accompanied by her grandmother who said lack of food was the main reason for their departure. Farah’s mother and father are still inside Mosul city waiting for the right moment to leave. They feared the journey with Farah’s younger siblings and decided to send her with her grandmother instead. A year ago, before schools inside the city closed down, Farah was in second grade.

Debaga displacement camp, Kurdistan, Iraq. Photo: WFP/Joelle Eid

Earlier this week, six year old Marwa from Mosul had walked from dark to dawn before reaching help . Her mother told us that, during the first few hours of the journey, the family had to walk barefoot in fear of being detected by IS forces. As soon as they arrived to the Debaga transit centre, they received immediate ready-to-eat food from WFP, enough to feed the family for three days while they waited to be transferred to their new shelter.

Debaga displacement camp, Kurdistan, Iraq. Photo: WFP/Joelle Eid

Twenty year old Ferial, or Farfoura as her friends call her, left her home in the city of Hawija, north of Baghdad earlier this week. Ferial and her family had to walk for 14 hours until they reached help and were later transported to the Debaga camp transit centre. Like all internally displaced families who make their way to safe centres, Ferial and her family received immediate food assistance from WFP. Recalling her time at home, Ferial said: “The only thing we could afford to buy in the last few months before we left was eggplant. We ended up eating a lot of eggplant stews.”

Debaga displacement camp, Kurdistan, Iraq. Photo: WFP/Joelle Eid

Ashti camp

The camp inside Erbil mainly hosts Iraqi families who fled Mosul shortly after IS took parts of the governorate in 2014. Families in the camp now receive food assistance from WFP through cash transfers. This innovative programme was launched in 2016 to enhance food assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Iraq.

Malak and Mina are sisters originally from the plains of Mosul. In April 2015, the family had to flee and find shelter elsewhere. They first stayed in a tent for four months, then moved to a mall turned shelter and finally settled in Ashti camp for IDPs. Their favorite Iraqi dish is Mumbar, lamb small intestines stuffed with rice and minced meat with lots of garlic.

Ashti Camp, Iraq. Photo: Joelle Eid.

Ghazwa prepares her family’s favorite meal, Dolma, a dish of vegetables stuffed with minced meat and rice. Displaced from her house in the plains around Mosul city since 2014, her family and thousands of others receive monthly food assistance from WFP.

Ashti Camp, Iraq. Photo: Joelle Eid.

Hanaa and her son Steven. Originally from the governorate of Mosul, the family is now displaced in Erbil and receives monthly cash assistance from WFP. Hanaa wishes she had enough money to volunteer in the IDP camps and centres receiving families who continue to flee the conflict-ridden governorate.

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Find out more about WFP‘s work in Iraq here.

Footnote: All photos:WFP/Joelle Eid
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