Among the millions who have fled the Syrian civil war over the past four years, around a quarter of a million have headed to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
They have been joined in recent months by more than 2 million Iraqis fleeing north to escape ISIL jihadists, and half of them are children.
UNICEF, the United Nation’s agency for children, says it has been a devastating year” for millions of children caught up in worldwide conflicts.
Jeffrey Bates, Chief of Communications for UNICEF Iraq told euronews that many young Syrian and Iraqi children have only known war.
“What for us is an emergency, a crisis (he speaks of war and violence), for them is normal. For them, what is strange is normal life.”
“So what UNICEF and partners are trying to do is create a normal life. A camp will never be home, but if these children can have places where they can play, go to school, where they can be with their friends and families and just to be safe and secure, it will give them the opportunity to continue to grow.” added Bates.
The deepest wish of many
of the refugees here is that their children thrive.
“There is no future for our children … or us. The jihadists still control many areas nearby, so we can’t think about the future. Things are uncertain,” said one father, who fled Qaraqosh during an early ISIL offensive.
UNICEF argues that the children’s education must be prioritised but it is difficult to make those plans happen, says euronews correspondent Raphaële Tavernier.
“Right in front of me, there is a school, attached to the refugee camp. But Yazidi children do not have access to it, because the local children get priority and also because they are taught in English and Kurdish and the refugees only speak Arabic,” reported Tavernier.
Around 4,000 primary school children and even more secondary school children are living in the Christian refugee camp we visited.
The days drag without school and so far from home and even activities organised by NGOs
are not enough to a make a difference.
One boy named Yusuf told us:
“Before we had our dignity, our home, our school. At Bachika, it was not like here. Here we have nothing at all.”
Another – named Savio – recounted life back home:
“Our lives were better before. At least we had schools, and we lived in prosperity. What do we have here? Nothing, not a single thing!”
There is a small glimmer of hope for the youngsters at this festive time, the first prefabricated school has opened nearby, one of eight paid for by a Catholic NGO.
The rest should be built and operational by the end of January.
Watch all the interview with Jeffrey Bates, Chief of Communications for UNICEF Iraq