- Posted October 12, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Photo essays: Your stories in pictures
Syrian Refugees in Iraqi Camps
People arrived here in the Slemani region by many means: some by walking the 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the border of Syria to the city of Dohuk and then getting on a bus, some by private vehicle, some by taxi, but all first to the government offices for registration, and then off to the camps. Everyone we talked to praised the Iraqi government for the help that they received to get here.
Living in a tent surrounded by tents can’t be easy, but think about the temperatures that we endure here in Iraq – soaring heat in the summertime, blowing winds in the fall, and freezing rains in the winter. Within each tent is an “evaporative cooler” which helps with the heat of the summer. The region is dry enough where these work quite well when the humidity is low. When the wind blows, as it is now, the only thing to do is to stay inside and endure. When the winter comes, probably in the next month or two, imagine living in a tent outside. I can’t. Many families left Syria walking with everything they could carry, but when the time came to get on a government bus, they had to leave it all behind, so they are living with things that have been donated. Each family is allowed to set up the inside of their tent as they desire, so each is different from the next, but the one thing that is constant is the large rug on the floor, and the blankets and clothes hanging outside airing out. A worry for the winter is that when the rains come, the stakes holding the tents up will pull out of the muddy clay ground and the tents could collapse. Surrounding each camp is a fence of razor wire and armed guards, all for the security of those inside. Inside the camp, families with women in them are on one side, and tents containing only men and boys are on the other, also for security purposes.
The refugees say that they are treated well by all of the people involved, from the guards, to the UN, to the many groups that come to try to help improve the living conditions inside the borders of the camp. They say that the food is plentiful, as well as bottled water available at all times for drinking. They really have only two complaints: they have no identification papers from the government so they cannot obtain work, thus the second problem, there is not much to do inside the camp, as they cannot go outside the razor wire.
The women in the camp find things to do that are comforting, as they would do in their homes in Syria: they wash the clothes in a bucket and hang them outside to dry, they shake and clean the rugs, help prepare the food, and sit with the other women watching the children. The children find solace in playing football (soccer to Americans) anywhere they can. The men gather in groups, talking, planning, and many times trying to fix the things around the camp that inevitably break with so many people using them - the port-a-squatties, (not potties, because there is no toilet.) Many times they can be found as late as midnight or one a.m. walking around the perimeter of the camp, just walking. Some of the topics of conversation include the future of the Syrian Kurds, the revolution going on within their country, and, of course, politics.
A 40-year-old man named Ali Ramazan said, “Now, we are just trying to start a new life within this camp. The camp is really no good for us, but what are we to do? We can’t work, so life here isn’t good for us. People in the camp are sick because we are living in the dirt, and there are sanitation problems with all of the toilets. Bacteria and waste from the broken toilets surround us, so people always have some type of stomach issue. Something that is really different for us is that people are getting married within the camp. We are used to a large wedding party, with dancing and food. Brides and grooms usually exchange gold rings for their marriage. Here, in the camp, they exchange a pen (for writing) and give those as gifts to all of the “guests” at the camp. We still dance Kurdish dances, but there is no cake, no soda, and no food usually present at Kurdish weddings. Still, life here is better than in Syria, where we were enduring chemicals, bombs, war, and death all around us.” Some men have taken it upon themselves to be entrepreneurs and sell cigarettes, which are inexpensive and easy to obtain, but this is the only apparent business going on inside the camp. Renaz Haji Mohammed, another resident of the camp, said, “We can never go back to Syria as long as the current regime is in power. When it is finished, we will all return, but maybe it will take 20 years to get things back to the way that they were before we left.”