Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees

by Peace Winds America
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Syria: Aiding Kurds and other vulnerable refugees
Peace Winds Staff Assembling Hygiene Kits
Peace Winds Staff Assembling Hygiene Kits

While, the full consequences of this pandemic have yet to be seen, we know that people in the world’s most vulnerable countries will suffer disproportionately, as they always do. In response, we are busy raising additional resources needed to meet emerging humanitarian needs. Below is the Peace Winds’ multisectoral approach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Peace Winds America:  Covid-19 Integrated Multisector Approach

Refugees and displaced persons are at higher risk of contracting coronavirus since they often cannot practice social distancing, and have little to no access to proper sanitation systems or medical care should they become sick. Most of the displaced communities that Peace Winds works are hosted in developing countries, where intensive care units often have fewer beds, fewer ventilators, and limited access to the high level of care needed for the most severe cases.

Barriers to health care and discrimination create an environment where the ill are often not treated, and cases go undetected enabling the rapid spread of the virus. Deep fears and anxieties in individuals and communities can also lead to people turning that fear against refugees and others who are most vulnerable. Prevention or delaying outbreaks, particularly among the most vulnerable, is therefore the best way to protect refugees and host communities.

Peace Winds works with communities to draw up preparedness plans and measures, directly involving refugees themselves from day one. This allows our teams to address specific concerns in outbreak response and to take account of existing social and cultural sensitivities.

Peace Winds’ approach to COVID-19 is a multi-sector integrated and inclusive approach. Our coordinated response brings together emergency assistance, water, sanitation and hygiene, education, health, shelter, and community-based protection. Prevention involves a focus on disease-surveillance, rapid-response capacity at Health Centers and Clinics, and effective community and regional coordination. Below are key interventions listed by sector.

Emergency Assistance

Most affected by the pandemic and the curfews/lockdowns are individuals who are not able to work and who are not afforded social protection from the State. Purchasing power has decreased and many people report not having enough cash fluidity to cover basic needs. Furthermore, lack of transportation has meant that many have not been able to access food and/or cash. Already vulnerable groups, like PwDs and the elderly, have also not been able to access health and medical assistance, and basic personal and household NFIs. The limited supply of essential goods and services has resulted in negative coping mechanisms including reducing meals and selling personal items. Peace Winds approach includes:

  • Provide emergency cash assistance to vulnerable households that are not able to cover their basic needs such as rent, food, medicine, NFIs and access to the internet, particularly to households headed by women, the elderly or PwDs.
  • Provide food parcels and transportation for the elderly, PwDs, and pregnant women to facilitate access to services.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Often Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) works separately from the health sector, but there is now a need for these activities to be considered essential public health intervention. Refugee and internally displaced people live in densely populated settings and rely on community facilities, such as shared water points and communal toilets, with access to water often intermittent and only available a few hours per day. The needed hand-washing standard which this pandemic requires, becomes unrealistic. Peace Winds specific WASH approach includes:

  • Distribution of soap for the general community, combined with hygiene promotion and hand sanitizer for health workers and other staff working in health facilities.
  • Partnering with UNHCR/IOM to get basic hygiene kits to refugee communities, which include soap, face masks, and other critical commodities.
  • Installation of hand-washing stations in refugee camps. Where some already exist, we are widely scaling these as quickly as possible. Also, assessing where rainwater harvesting can help supplement water stocks.
  • In settings where water is scarce, working to form refugee working groups to produce effective hand sanitizer, providing simple ingredients (aloe and alcohol >60%) along with containers for their distribution.

Community Education -- Behavior Change Strategies

Children’s education has been disrupted by closure of schools, and due to inadequate tools for remote education. Current camp-wide telecommunication blockages are inhibiting humanitarian actors from efficiently disseminating accurate messages about the current situation that are critical for COVID-19 prevention and preparedness, and countering harmful misinformation. Peace Winds community education approach includes:

  • Adapt information, education and communication materials about available assistance, services, health information, taking into consideration the linguistic and cultural needs of refugees.
  • Hygiene promotion through constant messaging, emphasizing the critical role of reducing how often we touch our faces – as touching the face is a key mechanism in the transmission of the virus, far more common than airborne transmission.
  • Messaging via WhatsApp, facebook, or other media to emphasize what people can do to stay safe, and also to dispel rumors that generate unnecessary fear.
  • Disseminate recommendations on how to support families with virtual studying for their children via WhatsApp and social media.
  • Provide support in dealing with general stress in this time of heightened fear and vulnerability -- simple stress-management exercises and parenting activities.

Health Services -- Healthcare Worker Training

Of critical importance is training and equipping staff in the health facilities we are supporting to identify suspected cases, safely isolate patients, and temporarily care for and refer people showing symptoms to specialized testing and treatment centers. Community health workers and volunteers are the front line to communities on prevention of COVID-19 and ensuring people with symptoms receive care early. Peace Winds Health approach includes:

  • Stepped up training of healthcare workers on surveillance for COVID-19 -- early identification, notification, case management and contact tracing, data collection and analysis and interpretation.
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectant, supplies to manage medical waste, laboratory supplies, and pharmaceuticals and medical equipment for case management.
  • Stockpile essential medicines and medical equipment, including oxygen concentrators
  • Preparation of isolation facilities in select camps and settlements.
  • Strengthen the referral system for laboratory specimens and prepositioning laboratory supplies including swabs, and specimen containers.
  • Ensure continuity of priority health services to avoid increased mortality from other conditions.


Sheltering plans, both long term and short term, are being reviewed to include considerations for things that may have not been considered before COVID-19. Peace Winds shelter approach includes:

  • Construction of isolation tents for Health Centers in need of separate COVID-19 screening, admission space, as well as space for patients needing to be transferred.
  • Shelter upgrade or modification plans, which do not account for social distancing, are reviewed and modified.
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The challenges of winter in Northern Iraq continue making lives harder for the Syrian refugees living in camps. Some 18,000 people have arrived in refugee camps in northern Iraq since October. To escape the violence that has destroyed countless homes and lives, Syrian families take a dangerous journey to safety in northern Iraq. But for many, the struggle continues in the camps. Though they have escaped the bombs, they still want for immediate necessities like medicine, hygiene kits, blankets, and a source of income.

Peace Winds is adapting to changing circumstances in northern Iraq and is responding to the most pressing need as the lead implementing partner of the United Nations: providing shelter to the newly arriving refugees. Since October, Peace Winds has prepared shelter sites, installed more than 3,000 temporary tent shelters, and connected them to water and electricity. As the temperature drops, Peace Winds is also providing kerosene for heating homes and addressing other needs as they arise. 

As CEO Wayne Nissly says, “In the fragile settings we work, every day brings new opportunities and fresh challenges. We work alongside community members to restore livelihoods, empowering the most vulnerable to create enduring pathways to stability.”

Northern Iraq has long been home to refugees and Peace Winds has served here for more than twenty years. We’re proud to have your support and prouder still of what it has meant to displaced Syrians in northern Iraq this year. Responding to this crisis, in 2019, Peace Winds has:

  • upgraded 801 tents and other structures into semi-permanent shelters, with funding from the U.S. Government, Department of State; 
  • generated short-term income for 2,345 refugee laborers through a Cash for Work program as part of the U.S. Government project; 
  • installed more than 3,000 tents for newly arriving refugees; and
  • provided kerosene to help keep residents warm in the approaching winter

Peace Winds is also focused on helping to address the need for livelihoods and income generation, particularly for women. We have begun a new partnership with a local organization in Kurdistan, the Judy Organization for Relief and Development (JORD) to train women to sew, use sewing machines, and use their skills to generate income. Donations made through GlobalGiving have helped fund this training and to provide sewing machines to the women who participate. 

Sewing training for women
Sewing training for women
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In Bardarash, all tent plots have WASH facilities.
In Bardarash, all tent plots have WASH facilities.

Since Turkey invaded Northern Syria on October 9th, over 13,000 Kurdish refugees have fled from Syria to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Approximately 75% of new arrivals are women and children and some of the children are unaccompanied. On average 1,200 refugees have arrived per day over the past week and are in great need for shelter, food, water, blankets, and other basic hygiene and household items.

Peace Wind’s Duhok office has been responding to the crisis in close coordination with local authorities, the UN, and other NGOs.

As an implementing partner of UNHCR, Peace Winds has been setting up emergency shelter and tents in Bardarash Camp, which has been hosting the new arrivals. Peace Winds staff worked long days and nights to complete 2,049 shelters in Bardarash in just eight days before that camp reached its full capacity of 11,000 refugees.

Bardarash Camp was established as a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for displaced Iraqis in 2014. After the return of IDPs and integration of several camps, Bardarash Camp has been unoccupied for more than two years. As a result, there are various needs including the rehabilitation of toilets, showers, water tanks, pipes, etc. Adding to the list of issues, winter season is arriving in northern Iraq, and the temperature rapidly decreases at night. Peace Winds and other humanitarian organizations are coordinating daily and working hard to improve the situation and address the gaps as quickly as possible.

One man who spoke English fluently told us his story. “Back in my home in Qamishli, Syria, we heard a lot of close bombing sounds. We were anxious and we couldn’t sleep. I worked in the government as an agricultural engineer, but I left all of my properties and my job and we desperately fled to the border. Tomorrow, my mother and sisters will arrive and I need to find a job.” Although the life in the refugee camp is not easy, he seemed relieved by the refuge and assistance provided in Bardarash Camp.

With Bardarash Camp at full capacity, Peace Winds has now begun setting up emergency tents, electricity hook-ups, and lighting in Gawilan Camp which will also begin hosting new arrivals. The Peace Winds staff has been working through the weekend to prepare the sites for the increasing number of new arrivals and plans to set up 1,588 emergency shelters in Gawilan, but that camp too is expected to quickly fill to capacity.

According to UNHCR, approximately 180,000 people have been displaced in northern Syria. Over 50,000 are expected to seek refugee in the Kurdistan region of Iraq in the coming months.

Peace Winds has been in northern Iraq for over 25 years and remains deeply involved and committed to assisting refugees, IDPS, and host communities in Kurdistan and Iraq.

Peace Winds built 2,049 shelters in eight days.
Peace Winds built 2,049 shelters in eight days.
Children carry water in Bardarash.
Children carry water in Bardarash.
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Peace Winds by the end of August completed the final 80 shelters at Darashakran, northern Iraq.  The construction is done by the families and employed refugees.  The families eagerly move into their new homes.  

Peace Winds follows-up the new home owners with surveys measuring satisfaction with the construction and environment, plus questions what can be improved. 

Peace Winds is exploring working with a local NGO to involve women in activities for their family and home, such as painting the interiors, sewing clothes and curtains.  Events for the women and children are strengthening the community and reducing isolation and withdrawal.

Peace Winds in September 2019 begins the second year of the two year U.S. State Department funded program building shelters in northern Iraq.  During year one of the U.S. State PRM Bureau project, Peace Winds has constructed 801 shelters. 

Peace Winds appreciates your support to assist the refugee families as they adjust to the new homes and environment.


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In early June 2019, 609 homes had been completed in four camps: Kawergosk, Qushtapa, Basirma and Darshakran.  This is 85% of Peace Winds 2019 construction target.

Families are adding rooms to the original designed construction plans. Also air-conditioning is being added, and women are painting the inside of the homes.

Rather than contracting all work, the refugees are building their own homes with help from Peace Winds and the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).   Refugees working at each of the targeted four camps continue to complete home construction using materials provided by Peace Winds. Tools Services Centers provide training and loan heavy equipment enabling refugees to construct their homes.

Peace Winds is targeting more homes to be completed by the end of August in order to reach the 100% of targeted home construction.   Peace Winds and the US State Department are partnering in the construction providing materials and employing the refugees. 

Funds and donations provided by individuals are used to purchase paint so the residents can paint their homes, add conveniences such as air-conditioning, and also employ refugees to build playgrounds and provide equipment and games for the children.  


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Organization Information

Peace Winds America

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @PWAmerica
Project Leader:
Patrick Hurley
SEATTLE, WA United States
$15,447 raised of $26,000 goal
71 donations
$10,553 to go
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