Michael Darragh Macauley visits Syrian refugees in Iraq

Michael Darragh Macauley visits Syrian refugees in Iraq

We left the modern city of Dohuk in Northern Iraq at about 9am on a Thursday morning. After about 20 minutes of tarmac highway, we moved to dirt tracks and drove along bumpy roads for another half an hour to get to the Qadia camp of Rawanga.

We had just 42 hours in Iraq for Dublin footballer Michael Darragh Macauley to meet with Syrian communities forced to flee their homes as a result of the nine-year crisis.

This morning, we were meeting with the Yazidi community.

The Yazidis are an ethnic minority with a monotheistic religion who have lived in the Middle East since the 12th century. Unfortunately, this community has been persecuted for many years and, in recent years, have endured horrific crimes including kidnapping, beatings, executions, rapes and captivity..

There are over 14,000 Yazidis living in the Rawanga camp for Internally Displaced People. This camp was set up in 2014 when the Yazidis were attacked and persecuted.

The camp is made up of hundreds of containers, stacked side by side, in grids with dirt tracks in between.

To date, 11,000 people have fled from Syria to this camp in Iraq.
To date, 11,000 people have fled from Syria to this camp in Iraq. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
Population breakdown within a Yazidi camp in north west Iraq.
Population breakdown within a Yazidi camp in north west Iraq. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide

We meet Vian* and his family in one of these containers. Vian invites us to sit cross-legged on the patterned rug, which covers the floor of the single room container that serves as both their living room and bedroom.

Six children clamber excitedly into the room to see the visitors and chatter amongst themselves. As Vian starts to tell us his story, he points to two of the boys and says: “They and their mother were taken by ISIS.”

I look over at the older boy, Roman. He has the blackest hair, piercing black eyes full of spirit and a beautiful full-toothed smile. 

Beside him sits Mahma with big innocent brown eyes and thick brown hair. Looking at Roman, who is quite skinny, I guess he is more or less the same age as my own son, who is nine.  

Michael Darragh asks the boys how old they are. 

“I’m fifteen,” says Roman. 

“I’m ten,” says Mahma. 

We soon find out why Roman is so slight for his age.

“Our village was attacked five years ago. That time, our father went missing. We have never seen him since. They separated everyone. The women, girls and young children were taken into slavery. They took us and our mother into captivity."

Roman

Vian adds that Roman was ten when he was taken and Mahma was just five-years-old. He explains that their mother, who was also held captive, is out at the moment getting psychosocial support from one of Concern’s partner organisations.

Roman describes the conditions he lived in for five years:

“It was a dirty, bad situation. We were forced to recite prayers, beaten, given just one meal each day and we had to sleep outdoors all the time with nothing but a light blanket. There was nothing positive at all.”

Mahma adds: “I don’t want to remember that time.”

Michael Darragh, an experienced teacher, distracts them from those bad memories. He asks the boys what they are interested in, their hobbies. 

Both boys say they are into football and gaming. Michael Darragh asks them what teams they support. At this point, the boys’ eyes light up. They’re visibly animated as they talk about their favourite teams and players.

Roman supports Barcelona and Mahma supports Juventus. Mahma’s favorite player is Ronaldo.

Dublin footballer and Concern Ambassador Michael Darragh Macauley in Iraq.
Dublin footballer and Concern Ambassador Michael Darragh Macauley in Iraq. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
Michael Darragh Macauley meets Roman* and Mahma* at an Iraq refugee camp.
Michael Darragh Macauley meets Roman* and Mahma* at an Iraq refugee camp. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
Michael Darragh Macauley meets with children living at an Iraq refugee camp.
Michael Darragh Macauley meets with children living at an Iraq refugee camp. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
Michael Darragh Macauley meets with children living at an Iraq refugee camp.
Michael Darragh Macauley meets with children living at an Iraq refugee camp. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
Michael Darragh Macauley meets with children living at an Iraq refugee camp.
Michael Darragh Macauley plays with children living at an Iraq refugee camp. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide

Michael Darragh asks them both what they want to be when they grow up. Mahma says he wants to be a doctor so he can help people. Roman says he wants to be a footballer and a teacher.

I explain to them that Michael Darragh is a footballer and a teacher. Roman can’t believe it. His smile broadens even further.

Michael Darragh pulls out his phone and shows them YouTube videos of his greatest moments on the pitch with Dublin. The two boys crowd in beside him and watch in awe and delight. They are full of joy and laughter.  

Concern Worldwide has been working with local partner, Voice of Older People and Family, for the past two years in Rawanga camp. There are over 6,000 children under 17 in this camp, over 300 of whom are orphans.. 

Diler Ahmed Younis, Child Protection Coordinator with VOP, explains their work in child protection.

“We work with families to identify child protection risks such as abuse, domestic violence, neglect, mental health issues caused by violence and we link families with other service providers and psycho-therapists. With Concern’s support, we are able to bring back hope for these young people. Many of them lost hope that they would ever have friends again and now they have both hope and new friendships."

*All names have been changed to protect the identities of our beneficiaries

We need your help

Concern is working hard in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to help these families with education, shelter and livelihood support. This Christmas, we want to ensure that every family has a warm and safe place to live… but we need your help.

Donate now to provide lifesaving essentials such as blankets and shelter kits to Syrian families.

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