“A Real Emergency Situation”: Refugees from Rojava in Northern Iraq

As a consequence of the Turkish military attack on the Kurdish-administered areas in northern Syria an increasing number of people are fleeing to northern Iraq. Suzn Fahmi works for the Jinda Center in Dohuk, which stands up for ezidic girls and women who escaped IS and also is a close partner of Wadi in Dohuk. Besides, Fahmi is the coordinator of the international aid organization “Khalsa Aid” in Iraq and currently works in the refugee camp Bardarash in northern Iraq. Wadi employee Andreas Stahl talked to her about the current situation of the refugees at the camp.

Good evening Suzn Fahmi, could you please describe the current situation at the border between Syria and Iraq?

Suzn Fahmi: Right now, we are still receiving refugees but the number has come down. Last week we received 1.200 or 1.300 people every day. But Saturday, October 26th and Sunday, October 27th was we received between 300 and 380 people. Most of them come from Rojava, mainly from the areas called Sari Kani and Qamishli. Many people lost their family members especially families from Sari Kani during the bombardment. There is not enough media coverage about it. When I was at the border the refugees told me that they had to pay money to cross the border.

How many refugee camps are there in Northern Iraq?

Suzn Fahmi: At the moment there are two camps opened for the Syrian or the Kurdish refugees: Bardarash and Gawilan. Last Saturday the Bardarash camp was opened for the refugees and by Sunday it was full.

How many people are there in Bardarash?

Suzn Fahmi: At Bardarash there are more than 2.500 families and nearly 11.000 people all in all. At the moment, nobody knows how many women, men or kids there are. But I would say, a large number of children.

How many more people do you expect to come in the next days and weeks?

Suzn Fahmi: I am not sure but maybe a couple of hundred more, maybe one thousand also but I am not sure.

How is the situation for refugees in the camps?

Suzn Fahmi: The situation is not good. For one week they have no drinking water. Khalsa Aid did bring water trucks to provide them with drinking water. The Bardarash camp was abandoned two years ago and it was empty for two years now, so when they came in there was nothing in the camp. It is a real emergency situation.

Apart from the water, which are the biggest problems for the people in the camps?

Suzn Fahmi: Baby milk is a big problem. Most of the mothers do not breastfeed and there is no milk powder in the camp-that is why the babies are hungry. On Saturday night at 9 pm I was in the camp and a woman crying came up to me because she had fed her baby with yoghurt, so her baby got very sick. No clinic was open. The clinic is only open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and they do not have a night shift. Many, many other issues exist but one of the main problems is water because they do not have water to even wash themselves.

Who takes care for the people?

Suzn Fahmi: To be honest, apart from the milk, almost nobody is helping except Barzani’s Charity Foundation which helped distributing milk to the families. But there is not enough milk to cover the requirements. At the cluster meeting on Sunday the issue was raised that NGO’s do not support giving milk to the babies but supporting breastfeeding. But most of the women do not breastfeed already when they have been in Syria. So, this was a huge problem being discussion at the meeting on Sunday and they have not found any solution yet.

What is your concrete work in the camp?

Suzn Fahmi: Right now as Khalsa Aid, we might be doing a hot meal project with Barzani’s Charity Foundation for the new arrivals. Also we might do a dislodging project to clean the camps because at the moment nobody but Khalsa Aid has the funds to do it. Khalsa Aid will do all these kinds of projects in the next days. The water project has been going for a week now, which is good.

What do the refugees ask for politically? Do they want to stay in North Iraq?

Suzn Fahmi: I asked a couple of people and they said that they want to stay, especially young boys over 18. They are afraid to stay in Syria because of the Syrian army. They will be forced to join the army, so they ran away and came here. As for the other families that ran away: Some of them already have families that came to the region many years ago. They are staying for example in other camps in Kurdistan and they want to stay with them. Some of them do have relatives in Dohuk city or Erbil. They do not want to stay in the camps but they do not have permission to get out of the camp to go to Slemani or Erbil. They only have permission to go out if their relatives live in Dohuk.