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Iraq crisis Swiss send first direct aid to northern Iraq

Refugees sit outside their tent in the Bahrka Refugee Camp in Erbil, northern Iraq

(Keystone)

Switzerland is sending 50 tonnes of winter aid relief, worth CHF400,000 ($427,000), to northern Iraq – home to thousands of refugees fleeing the militant Islamic group Islamic State (IS).

“This is the first time that the Swiss Confederation is delivering relief aid directly to Iraq,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday. external linkPreviously this was carried out via projects with partner organisations such as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Save the Children Switzerland.

The cargo is mostly made up of cold weather tents, but also includes heaters, blankets,  mattresses and cooking sets for 1,800 people in the greater Erbil area.

“Based on previous winters, the coming cold season will see temperatures fall below zero, making the extremely difficult conditions for the people displaced by the war in northern Iraq even more untenable. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only a few tents in the refugee camps are equipped for the winter,” the statement said.

There are also two transport units of medical equipment which can provide basic medical care for 10,000 people for three months, which have been requested by the local health ministry.

Specialists

A specialist from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) flew to Erbil on Thursday to help prepare for distributing the aid. More specialists from the Swiss cooperation office in Amman in Jordan will join him on the ground. The equipment will be transported to northern Iraq on September 25.

So far Switzerland has provided CHF8.6 million to projects with partners in northern Iraq, continued the statement. The money has been used to provide equipment and aid, especially to families and children.

The region is the centre of serious unrest. The United States has been conducting airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq since August, when the militants tried to push towards Erbil in the largely autonomous Kurdish region. The militant group controls large areas of Syria and northern Iraq.

According to the UNHCRexternal link, there are almost half a million displaced people in northern Iraq, and pressure on accommodation there remains acute. An estimated 850,000 people have sought safety in Erbil alone.

“Switzerland has repeatedly condemned the serious violations of international law in Iraq and has called on all parties to the conflict to respect humanitarian law and human rights,” concluded the communiqué.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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