THE BLOG

Helping Refugees and IDPs in Kurdistan

10/12/2014 17:13 GMT | Updated 09/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Back in 1991, my first experience of solidarity with the Kurds was when a million Kurds fled Saddam's helicopter gunships to the mountains. The MP I then worked for had been asked to help by a British woman who was so appalled that she banded together with others to collect blankets and food. She was having difficulties in despatching tons of supplies and we helped persuade Iranian airlines to do this.

As Jonathan Rugman, the esteemed Channel 4 foreign affairs correspondent pointed out this week, things were less complex then. The end of the Cold War meant that eventual western action in the form of a no-fly zone was not caught up in great power rivalry. Nowadays, we see similar scenes and tremendous suffering in Syria - the root of the crisis in Iraq although they are connected and self-reinforcing. But Russian and Chinese vetoes prevent necessary action.

This has created a massive humanitarian crisis and delays its resolution through defeating Daish, and enabling the safe return of refugees and internally displaced people to their own homes, or nearby if they cannot trust neighbours who sold them out to Daish, took part in rapes or stole their property.

In the meantime, the priority is to help those who have lost everything. Some six million people have had to leave their homes in Syria and Iraq and about 1.5 million of them are in the Kurdistan Region. The KRG's High Representation is appealing for money, new blankets and other vital goods.

A cross-party Commons motion tabled by Dave Anderson, the Secretary of the all-party group on Kurdistan, warmly welcomes the Kurdistan Emergency Appeal. The motion recognises that the KRG is urgently trying to provide shelter but has been stymied by Iraqi budget cuts, UN funding shortfalls and bureaucracy. It fears that deaths will result from the cold winter and rains, and commends the appeal as allowing the British public and the Kurdish Diaspora to help relieve the plight of those escaping from the so-called Islamic State.

The KRG High Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman highlighted the appeal in the Observer where she wrote: "Almost every Kurd I know has been a refugee at least once. That's why we are hardwired to help others in the same position. But we are overwhelmed by the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe that has befallen Kurdistan and Iraq."

The appeal was launched at a rally at the Commons this week. The platform included Rugman who showed us his film about the brave Iraqi helicopter pilots who rescued Yazidis from Mount Sinjar, one later killed in a crash.

Sally Williams of the Daily Telegraph sketched the human face of victims who had lost everything. She asked 17-year-old Zanab what she missed most: "'My school books,' she replies, and bursts into tears. Born into a family where anything was possible, even for a girl, she was in her final year at school and on course for medical school. She was about to sit her exams when, suddenly, she had to run away."

Two films by the Kurdistan Memory Programme's Gwynne Roberts, whose work has illuminated the Kurdish story for a generation, stunned the audience with their depiction of Daish brutality, which is so redolent of Nazi behaviour. Stand-up comedian Kae Kurd reminded us that humour and parody can be combined with anger, as the British did so effectively with Hitler.

We heard first-hand testimony from Turkmen and Assyrian representatives and solidarity speeches from academics and activists. Heavyweight and moving support was given by Baroness Nicholson, the British Prime Minister's envoy to Iraq and MPs Nadhim Zahawi and Colonel Bob Stewart, once the commander of British land forces in Bosnia,

Zahawi said that "the generosity of the Kurdish people in sheltering 1.5 million refugees and IDPs is an example to the world" and the Peshmerga are "are risking their lives in what I truly believe is a battle for Middle Eastern civilisation," which Britain must help "as close allies of the Kurds, facing a common enemy, and united by a common humanity." Stewart, who was nearly sent to Kurdistan by the army, made an impassioned appeal for justice for the "wonderful" Kurds.

That 200 Kurds and Brits came to the Commons on a cold December evening gives great hope to a campaign to help the Kurds help their own citizens and others, who face a colder winter in terrible conditions. The Kurdish Diaspora may be waking up from hibernation. Their contribution to this campaign, which will stretch out for months and years, is vital.

Details of the Kurdistan Emergency Appeal and films are at kurdistanemergency.org/