04/06/2013 13:46 BST | Updated 04/08/2013 06:12 BST

Carrying a Baby Across the Border From Syria to Iraq


I recently met a 19-year-old mother as she arrived at the border in northern Iraq, after fleeing Syria. Nawroz came by foot, in the rain, with her four-month old daughter in her arms. She told me about the bombing in Damascus, and how afraid she had been.

For me to get to the border from Domiz, 60 kilometres away, I traveled with two armoured cars and a police escort. Nawroz left Damascus by car, but the final leg of her journey was a five-kilometer hike through the deserted, hilly no-man's-land between Syria and Iraq. It had been raining there for four days, I was told.

Nawroz shivered as I spoke with her, her dark hair dripping and her thin red top soaked through. Her husband queued at the registration desk in a sodden tee-shirt. But her baby daughter, Ava, was warm and dry. She gurgled, grabbing my fingers tightly, as I played with her. Miraculously, Nawroz had kept Ava dry, wrapping the infant in layers and layers of clothing.

A colleague commented quietly to me on how well Nawroz had cared for her baby. "And she's only a child herself."

I had a jumper with me, which I offered to Nawroz, but she refused, then took my hand and smiled at me. Her hand was icy and she kept shivering. I looked to my colleague (an Arabic-speaker) for help. I didn't want to embarrass Nawroz by insisting - I also didn't want to assume someone would necessarily want my scruffy secondhand jumper - but I hated to see her so cold if I could do something about it.

Working in emergency response, especially in communications, I see a lot of pain I can only help in a roundabout way ("okay, I'll write the story, so we can raise awareness, so more funding should come in, so Unicef can better provide X,Y or Z"), so it's easy to get excited when I think there's something immediate, however small, I can do.

My colleague gracefully navigated the social etiquette for me and I was able to hand over my jumper, and see Nawroz slightly warmer.

Other people I met at the border had taken similar journeys. A drenched 10-year-old girl told me she had been walking for two hours and was tired and cold. Lina, 22, had carried her 11-month-old son with her, and said she and her husband only managed to take a few bags of clothes with them from Syria. Selwa, eight months pregnant, told me as she waited in the rain to register that her journey had been "difficult".

Since I went to the border crossing, Unicef, with support from the Government of Japan, has finished building a covered area there, along with latrines and drinking taps so new arrivals have basic shelter and facilities while they wait - often for many hours - to register in Iraq.

With the number of Syrians arriving in Iraq expected to further increase - in just the last six months the number of refugees in Iraq has tripled, up to over 150,000 from 50,000 in November last year - these basic services should help to provide all newcomers with a slightly more dignified arrival to Iraq.

Among them, could be Nawroz's parents whom Nawroz told me would soon follow her to Iraq.