U.N. airlifts winter aid to desperate Iraqis

UNHCR: the first of seven planned flights from Pakistan had touched down in Erbil

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The United Nations said Friday it had begun airlifting tent isolation kits into Iraq to help some of the around two million people displaced in the conflict-torn country get through the harsh winter.

The U.N. refugee agency said the first of seven planned flights from Pakistan had touched down in Erbil in the northern Kurdish region late Thursday.


The flight was carrying 3,600 tent insulation kits, comprising polystyrene flooring and fibre insulation for tent walls, which will be distributed to camps across Iraq, UNHCR said in a statement.

Another six flights, carrying another 25,000 insulation kits from Lahore, where they are produced, are set to arrive before December 12, it added.

“Time is growing short,” warned UNHCR regional chief Amin Awad, pointing out that temperatures were dropping fast across Iraq.

“We must get this essential support to the most vulnerable Iraqi displaced immediately,” he said.

Around two million Iraqis have been displaced since January, most of them since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group jihadists began seizing large swaths of the country in June, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” across much of Iraq and Syria.

More than 60,000 people are now living in eight tent camps across the country, with new camps being built to house more than 300,000 more, UNHCR said.

“Currently, as many as 700,000 people are living in unfinished or abandoned buildings, schools, religious centers, and even in parks,” the agency warned.

The Iraqi government, the regional Kurdistan government and dozens of aid agencies are all working to help provide safe and warm shelter to all in need, but UNHCR warned time was not on their side.

Lacking funds also remain a “major challenge,” said the agency, pointing out that it had received less than half of the more than $110 million it was seeking for its winterization program in Iraq.

The agency said it still needed 15,000 more insulation kits to reach its target of helping 40,000 families.

A long line of other items are also needed to help the displaced get through the winter, including warm clothing, stoves and kerosene.

Without such aid, it warned that “those displaced will suffer and the lives of the most vulnerable could be endangered.”

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