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The misery of Syria's displaced Kurds

Winter rain has turned the Domiz camp in northern Iraq into a quagmire, yet the influx of refugees is only growing.
Last modified: 9 Jan 2013 20:46

It is a very cold winter at the Domiz camp in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. It has been raining for hours. The place is muddy and very cold.

The moment you enter the camp, you sense the misery of a displaced population.

Some little girls are shivering. The newly born are wrapped in warm clothing and waiting in line to be registered with the Kurdish authorities.

It looks really miserable. Many women and children are walking bare foot in the mud.

From a vantage point, the camp looks more like a settlement of tents.

Around 30,000 people live in the camp alone. An average of 500 people come in every day, so you can predict that the influx is only growing.

The UN refugee agency is stretched.

It provides waterproof tents and non food items. It has different phases to house the refugees after the transit in tents.

Quest for privacy

Refugees get a plot with a concrete foundation, latrine and kitchen. That could take up to two months.

Some refugees who have some money or income improve their living conditions. Some build little rooms with doors to get some privacy.

But not all can afford to do that.

Touring the camp, I felt the suffering that these people are going through. Long lines of men and women wait to get a box of food items including cheese, oil and sugar from an Iraqi Kurdish telecommunication company.

The rain has turned the camp into a quagmire.

I speak to many refugees. Some are scared to talk. Many have left because of fear for their lives.

Many others, though, have come here because they have a better opportunity to improve their lives or simply get access to food.

In contrast to neighbouring countries, refugees in the Kurdish region get residency permits. They are allowed to move freely in the region and even work.

The Kurdish Regional Government, KRG, feels obliged to help these people. After all, they are fellow ethnic Kurds.

Shift in policy

The attitude highlights the policy difference between the Iraqi central government and the KRG.

Baghdad had imposed restrictions on Syrian refugees coming into Iraq from at least two or three crossings that it controls.

The central government cites security fears. It wants to control everything that comes in and out of Syria.

That explains why the Kurdish region is home to less than 60,000 Syrian refugees, while the rest of Iraq has only 10,000 of them.

What is also interesting is that the KRG allows thousands of Syrians to come in and out to buy food and fuel. Of course that happens at the unofficial border crossings between the KRG and Syria

But even with the support refugees get from the UN and the KRG, it is a tough life. And now people are starting lose hope.

A man from Damascus, Syria's capital, tells me that after hearing President's Bashar al-Assad's latest speech, he is convinced that his stay at the camp will last for years.

A woman says she will never return to Syria if Assad remains in power.

"He has turned into a bloody monster, killing his people," she says.