Winnipeg's Kurdish community is raising money to send back to family members in Iran left devastated in the aftermath of last weekend's earthquake near the border with Iraq.
The 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck along the Iran-Iraq border Sunday night, killing more than 530 people, injuring more than 7,800 and leaving many homeless in the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab, located in Iran near the Iraq border.
Omar Rahimi is a Winnipeg-based refugee activist who came to Canada from Iraq in 2001. Rahimi's family in Sarpol-e-Zahab lost their homes to the earthquake, and he said the Iranian government is doing very little to help — that's why he's helped start a GoFundMe page to raise funds.
"We believe they purposely don't want to help us," he said Friday of the Iranian relief effort. "Seven [hundred] villages were leveled, and many people are still under rubble and these villages were already poor… and far from hospitals — nobody has got to them in four days.
"The Kurdish people inside Iran are helping each other. People from Europe and here — family members — we've been sending money to them, but it's not enough."
The town was reconstructed in the decades following the 1980s war with Iraq. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has launched an investigation into why government housing, built by his hard-line predecessor, collapsed while others withstood the powerful earthquake.
'They're shocked, they're devastated'
The temblor hit about 31 kilometres outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and struck 23.2 km below the surface, a somewhat shallow depth that can cause broader damage.
Rahimi said his wife's uncle died when his home collapsed in Sarpol-e-Zahab during the earthquake and on his side of the family an aunt and two uncles lost their homes in the community.
He said 12 of his family members are now living in one emergency tent in the rubble.
"They're shocked, they're devastated. They're just in survival mode," said Rahimi. "They want to survive. They want to take care of their kids, they need drinking water. People all over the world need to know they need help."
Rahimi is the co-founder of Hirearefugee.ca, a website that links potential employers with refugees looking for work. He says many of the employees he works with also lost family in the earthquake.
"Everybody lost cousins, uncles, dads, mothers, kids — they lost everything," he said.
"Some of them are new to Canada — they're refugees — and what's hit me the most is they're just crying, and they're telling me they don't have money to pay their rent and now they're wondering how they can help their family back home.
"They're barely working here to get money so they can pay rent… and now they have to worry about this."
Rahimi said all money raised through the campaign will be sent directly to Sarpol-e-Zahab through the Kurdish Association of Manitoba.