Mon 28/11/2022 - 16:55

In Switzerland, many of us are being impacted by the steep rise in the cost of basic commodities like fuel and food. Now imagine yourself in the same situation but being on the road fleeing war or living in an uninsulated tent in the desert. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality for millions of refugees and displaced families who are facing winter.

Om Saker’s story is a testimony of the challenges winter imposes on people forced to flee, but also an example of how everyone can make a difference and support families like hers to brave the cold. 

Single mother of three struggling to keep her children warm 

Om Saker fled her home in Hatra – Iraq from 2015 until 2019, escaping the war and persecution. After managing to finally return to her hometown after having been displaced several times inside Iraq with her children and having lived in camps for three years, she is considered a returnee.   

After her husband went missing in 2017, she is now a single mother and the sole provider for her three children: Hiba, Nada and Saker. Due to the repeated displacements and endless hours spent on the road, she tragically lost her 6 months daughter Sada. The family of four is now living in a small tent pitched next to Om Saker’s father-in-law's small house in Hatra, as her old home has been fully destroyed by the conflict. 

Om Saker and her three children. © UNHCR/Ahmed Ayad
Om Saker and her three children. © UNHCR/Ahmed Ayad
 “We depend on the support of kind people. We forgot what comfort is. Their father went missing and we have no source of income.”  

Despite having been able to return, the family faces harsh conditions every winter. Om Saker explains:  

“We only eat bread. Sometimes I receive assistance and I cook lunch and dinner for my children. Otherwise, we have nothing… Winter affects us terribly. I sometimes go to my sister’s. Sometimes, I stay here, and the rainwater leaks inside... Every year, I hope to have some ease, but I’m still in the same situation. I have no salary, no money, I have nothing… “ 

The single mother started to receive UNHCR’s winter cash assistance that is provided to the most vulnerable internally displaced and returnee families in Iraq. She joyfully remembers the moment when she received a text message from UNHCR informing her about it:  

“I felt so happy that I couldn’t sleep. I received 1,440,000 Iraqi Dinars (100 CHF). I couldn’t believe it… It covered my needs for 3-4 months. I felt comfortable and didn’t need to ask for anything from anyone.” 

Thanks to this assistance, Om Saker was able to pay many of her debts, and finally afford warm clothes and many other necessities. She was able to buy food and cook delicious meals for her children. She says:  

“If we didn’t receive the assistance, we could have died out of hunger.” 

Om Saker feels thankful despite the harsh conditions that she’s facing, and she finds comfort in being with her children:  

“Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to bear the hardships. They provide me comfort until everything gets resolved… I pray that God provides us with some ease and that their father comes back. That’s all I pray for.” 

Her son watching Om Saker as she prepares dinner. © UNHCR/Ahmed Ayad
Her son watching Om Saker as she prepares dinner. © UNHCR/Ahmed Ayad

Many forcibly displaced families in Iraq find themselves in similar situations every Winter. Like Om Saker and her children, some of them can barely cover their basic needs such as food, and appropriate winter clothes, sometimes even forcing them to walk through the snow in sandals. Their precarious conditions are increasing the risks of developing serious health problems, thereby further diminishing their meager savings. They are desperately in need of additional funding in order to make it through the winter cold.