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Q&A from Iraq: A Firsthand Account of the Emergency

Refugees from Iraq

Ragan meets a 12-day old child whose family fled the violence in Sinjar. The child did not yet have a name because her family had been on the run for a week before finding safe shelter in Dohuk.

Iraqi Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been working 24/7 since this last crisis in Sinjar.

The American Red Cross is in northern Iraq providing relief to people seeking refuge from violence that has forced more than 650,000 people to flee to the Kurdistan region in recent months. That number is expected to increase as the tens of thousands of families trapped in besieged villages around the Sinjar Mountain and in the disputed areas flee for their lives.

In addition to a $50,000 contribution to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced families, the American Red Cross has deployed disaster specialist Stacy Ragan to support in assessment, coordination, information management and reporting—essential assistance for an emergency of this scale, which can overwhelm local Red Crescent branches. See a selection of Ragan’s photos here.

Ragan, manager of the American Red Cross International Response Operation Center, describes her experience in an interview from Dohuk.

Q. How does your Red Cross team decide where to provide help?

Ragan: Our team is working to support the Iraqi Red Crescent, who have been providing relief assistance since this crisis began in June. After the recent violence in Sinjar, the Iraqi Red Crescent provided hot food and water to over 200,000 people who were fleeing violence. Many people do not have adequate shelter and are staying in schools, mosques, bridges, and unfinished buildings. They fled with only the clothes on their backs. The Iraqi Red Crescent has identified these people as most vulnerable and we're working to provide food parcels and basic household items until they get to more permanent housing.

Q: What is the one thing you would like people in the U.S. to know about this emergency response?

I have been most touched by the outpouring of support by the Kurdish people, who are saddened by the crisis and incredibly compassionate. One of my first days here we were at a stoplight and saw a truck in front of us full of Yazidis. The car next to them opened their doors and started passing bottles of water across to the children. I've seen this numerous times since being here. I visited the home of some local residents last week. They had sent cars to pick up over 100 displaced people, brought them to their home, cooked food, gave them fresh water for showers and clean clothes. They're providing shelter on their property to the displaced. It's people helping people at its absolute best.

Q. Have you met anyone in particular whose story touched you or who was affected by the Red Cross’s work?

The very first person I met was a newborn girl who was just 12-days old. She was five days old when the violence started and her family had to flee Sinjar. She did not have a name yet because they had been on the run for a week before finding safe shelter in Dahuk. Her family was exhausted and traumatized from their experience. I was especially touched by her and her family.

The people I've met have been traumatized. Both by the violence they witnessed and by the physical toll of running for their lives. They can't really see anything besides the present and what family members they left behind. They're most concerned about the basics of food, shelter and water for the moment.

Q. Give us the top three ways you are making a difference.

Iraqi Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been working 24/7 since this last crisis in Sinjar. They haven't slept or seen their families. Our job is to support them with the purchase and distribution of additional relief supplies; to coordinate with international responders like the United Nations and other agencies to ensure that the Red Crescent’s work is known and represented; and to help tell their story internationally to media and donors.

Q. Tell us about another Red Cross national society that is doing something you admire?

The Italian Red Cross sent a team to assess the viability of a field kitchen that can make 8,000-10,000 meals per day. They have a lot of experience doing this both in Italy and during other large-scale international disasters. Given that the displaced are so transient without permanent homes or camps, this could be a really good thing for people who are living on the street or in communal buildings.

Q. What is one thing you are glad you packed?

Good moisturizer. It's very dry here!