16 Dec 2016 |

“It is hard to ignore when you see what they have been through”

The Danish emergency aid specialist, Knud Andersen, has been in Iraq since October to coordinate Mission East’s efforts to help the many people who are fleeing Mosul. A humanitarian disaster of this scale requires a lot of planning – and flexibility.

By Kim Wiesener, Communications Officer

Distribution of emergency aid is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. A lot of pieces need to fall into place when the scale of a humanitarian crisis becomes as large as it is expected to be when the flow of refugees out of Mosul escalates.

This is how the 42-year old Danish emergency aid specialist, Knud Andersen, describes the challenge that he faces together with his colleagues and the large group of other aid organisations that are ready to support hundreds of thousands of potential Mosul refugees.

Knud Andersen has been hired to coordinate Mission East’s work on the Mosul crisis. He arrived in Iraq on 20 October this year.

The preparations for the crisis have been going on for a long time. During most of the year 2016, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been expected to attempt to reconquer the second largest city in Iraq. Now the time has come to put the meticulous planning of the humanitarian aid effort to the test. Mission East will be among the organisations designated to hand out emergency aid to Iraqis fleeing Mosul during the first 72 hours of their escape.

“We will do this because we have already shown that we are good at it, e.g. on Sinjar Mountain,” Knud Andersen said, referring to the situation when Mission East was among the first organisations to assist the many Yezidis when the persecuted religious minority had to flee the terrorist movement, Islamic State.

UN expectations

A good relief effort leads to increased attention, which in its turn leads to further obligations. The UN humanitarian office, OCHA, is coordinating the overall Mosul relief effort and is “expecting a lot from us. We take this very seriously, and it is important to have all our procedures in place,” Knud Andersen explained.

When you are distributing aid during a major humanitarian crisis, you need to be flexible. The UN and the Iraqi government is in the process of building camps for a large number of displaced Iraqis because of the Mosul operation, but this does not mean that there is room for everyone. The situation does not get less complicated by the fact that the UN – despite appeals to the international community – has received far less than the requested funds for the Mosul relief effort.

Consequently, many displaced people may end up living outside the established camps – perhaps just next to them, perhaps somewhere else. They will also need assistance, and Mission East and other organisations must be ready to help them.

“Our role is to be very mobile. We need to be sure that our supplies are as close as possible to the beneficiaries so that we can start our relief effort quickly if needed,” he said.

“Not enough to talk about it”

Knud Andersen has worked with refugees for most of his adult life. He started in the Balkans in the 1990s where he first worked as a volunteer and then was stationed with the Danish military. Later, he spent several years working at a Red Cross Centre in Denmark, and his most recent job was in Somaliland. Knud Andersen explained his career choice as follows:

“It is hard to ignore when you are out there seeing what they have been through. The Mosul offensive has the potential to set off a major humanitarian crisis, while the world is facing the largest number of refugees since the Second World War. When you see what that leads to, you must do something. It is no longer enough to sit around and talk about it,” he said.