Canada is contributing a further $139 million to ease the humanitarian devastation left in the wake of the Islamic State’s violent campaign across Iraq and Syria that has displaced millions of people from their homes.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged the additional funds during a surprise visit to Iraq Saturday that began here in the Iraqi capital and then took him close to the frontlines in northern Iraq.
“Aid is for a wide range of things: for water, for sanitation, for shelter, for certain amount of clothing, especially for cold seasons,” Harper told reporters.
Iraq now has 2.7 million people who have been displaced from their homes, a humanitarian crisis that is difficult to comprehend, said Rosemary McCarney, president and CEO of Plan Canada, a Toronto-based charity that assists children.
“It’s almost inconceivable to fathom the numbers of displaced in this region, in Iraq and Syria, as a result of conflict,” said McCarney, who was part of the delegation that travelled to Iraq. “Those numbers are not going down and these people are not going home,” she said.
“Some of them have been displaced two or three times. They think they get to a safe place . . . and the conflict changes, and they pick up and run again. And when they’re running, they’re literally running, throwing the stuff,” she said.
Many of the displaced are children and in the turmoil they risk falling behind in their education because “schools are knocked to the ground or taken over by armed forces.”
“You can imagine the destruction in the lives of children, who have seen violence in its worst forms and need that support,” she told the Star.
The money announced by Harper on Saturday is meant to help countries cope with the influx of refugees needing food, clean water, shelter and sanitation.
Of the money, $39 million is earmarked for Iraq, $19.5 million for efforts in Syria, $10.6 million in Lebanon and $9.3 million for Jordan. The remaining money will support other initiatives across the region.
Harper highlighted the humanitarian assistance during a brief stop at a church that acts as a drop-in centre for displaced families and where Canadian-sponsored aid is funnelled. He was greeted by a children’s choir that sang “Joy to the World” and another hymn.
The prime minister shook hands with some of the leading Christian figures in the community, some of whom showed up at the last minute to see him. A crowd of people hung on a wire fence just to catch a glimpse of him.
Harper arrived in Baghdad about 7 a.m. onboard a C-17 military transport. He then took a helicopter to the city’s Green Zone to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the presidential palace.
“Prime Minister al-Abadi and I had productive discussions today on our common efforts to degrade ISIS and to address the humanitarian and development needs Iraq is facing,” Harper said in a statement.
For his part, al-Abadi thanked Canada for its contributions to the fight and the humanitarian aid. Although Canada’s contributions of military trainers and CF-18 fighter jets has been in the spotlight, Ottawa is also working to address the human fallout of the violence.
Later in the day, at a stop in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, the prime minister announced a further $26 million for projects, such as improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene in communities hit hard by the influx of refugees.
By Bruce Campion-Smith