Imad holds his toy Mercedes pressed firmly against his heart. It’s the only present he got for Eid al-Adha, a Muslim feast tens of thousands of Iraqis are spending in camps for the first time.
The Islamic State (IS) group’s four-month-old offensive in Iraq has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, 850,00 of whom have fled to the autonomous region of Kurdistan.
In Garmawa camp, southeast of the Kurdish city of Dohuk, children play in the dusty alleys among white tents set up by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
The cars, dolls and balls they received from an aid group for the feast, the most important date in the Muslim calendar, are not enough to make them forget what Eid al-Adha used to be like.
“Last year for Eid, I was very happy because I got new clothes and lots of presents. We spent all day visiting our neighbours and playing,” said Imad.
“This year it’s not the same,” said the 11-year-old, whose family fled Zumar, a town that lies only some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the camp, on the other side of Mosul dam lake.
Garmawa’s 633 families are in such shock from having been chased from their homes by the jihadists that they had decided not to mark Eid al-Adha at all, camp manager Ibrahim Mohammed said.
“But an aid group came a few days ago to convince them to celebrate” the Feast of the Sacrifice after all, he said.
At dawn on Saturday, the Dubai-based “Physicians Across Continents” aid group arrived with presents and eight cows.
The animals were slaughtered on the edge of the camp and aid workers, together with volunteers from the camp, then skinned them and used scales to distribute equal portions of meat to the families.
– Cow’s tail –
One boy with a large plaster on his forehead and wearing a blue T-shirt gets one of the cows’ tail in a plastic bag. Others get better cuts to take back to their tent.
The meat will improve the next few meals in a camp from which many aid groups fled when an IS offensive in August meant jihadists were just a few miles away.
Humanitarian relief moved in the area en masse in June but only a handful of aid groups remain, including Action Against Hunger and Acted, which provide water, sanitation and food supplies.
The food is delivered every month “but it only lasts 20 days”, says Ibrahim, the camp manager.
He says he has been an aid worker since 1991 and has witnessed many humanitarian crises before. “This one is the worst,” he says.
For Abbas with his eight children — six of whom have a disability — crammed into a tent, he faces so many worries that Eid al-Adha comes as an afterthought.
Abbas, who at 35 looks almost twice his age, says his family was always too poor to splash out for the feast.
“But at least back then we used to live in peace.”