Syrian Kurds provide safe haven for thousands of Iraqis fleeing ISIS

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Displaced Yezidi families in Newroz Camp for refugees in northeastern Syrian city of Derik. Photo: ARA News

ARA News 

QAMISHLI – The Syrian Kurds are hosting and helping about 10,000 to 15,000 Iraqis fleeing the oppression of ISIS, despite of an embargo and ongoing war against ISIS.

“We have suffered suppression in Iraq, but here we receive a good treatment,” said Abu Ali, 25, a displaced Iraqi citizen who escaped ISIS-held Mosul and resorted to Qamishli in northeastern Syria. “We receive full services, maybe we are treated better than Syrians over here.” 

The UNHCR has prioritized helping displaced Iraqis in Northern Syria due to a lack of budget, and shortage of food supplies. That’s why the UN said it would airlift necessary aid from Damascus to Qamishli, after Turkey closed the border gate of Nusaybin for aid months ago.

“The administration of Rojava [Syria’s Kurdish region] helped us more than the Iraqi government. We are getting help from the UN and from the administration here,” Ali told ARA News.

“We receive financial help of 20,000 Syrian pound [40 dollar] per month. This is good enough to survive and we are temporarily here,” he said. 

“It was quite difficult to escape ISIS, we had to pay 1,500 dollar to a smuggler,” he added. One of his family members who now lives in Qamishli had to escape after being arrested by ISIS for smoking in Mosul.

“Most of ISIS fighters are foreigners. Nobody can ask about their nationality. We don’t get close to them to avoid trouble,” he told ARA News. 

“We’ve been seeking stability, security and safety, this is all available in Rojava,” Abu Xalid, 33, who fled Mosul after sold all his property to pay smugglers. “The financial support we get from the UN is not enough, I have 8 children and have my wife here, it’s very hard situation,” he said.

“All our property and money is gone after ISIS came to our region. Everything is looted, “ he added.

It’s unclear how many Iraqis are now living in the regions administrated by the Kurds. “When I entered the region, I was with 1,500 people,” Abu Ali said. “But most of them live in camps, and if you want to stay in a well-served camp you need people with connections.”

In the al-Hawl camp near the Iraqi border now between 5,100 to 6,000 Iraqi refugees are hosted by the Kurdish administration in a camp that in the past hosted displaced Palestinians. 

Speaking to ARA News, Dijwar Ehmed, the head of humanitarian affairs office in Rojava, said: “We direct humanitarian organizations to the camps in al-Hawl. They are 5-6 organizations and they help the refugees.” 

“But the situation is very difficult. Some sit under trees without tents and no service, because our capabilities are limited. We are under five embargoes, the borders are closed,” Ehmed added.

“For instance, UNICEF provided us [in al-Hawl camp] with 3 water tanks and made rest rooms, but this is very little for thousands of refugees,” he said.

Moreover, Ehmed suspects that for political reasons the international community deprives Rojava from aid. “While a lot aid is given to Syrian areas held by the opposition, jihadist groups and Syrian regime. Aid provided to the Kurdish-led areas is very limited, and NGOs operating in the area want to keep a low profile.” 

Apart from thousands of Iraqis living in camps, there are also more than 1,000 to 2,000 living in the cities. “There are no clear statistics until now, but not many Iraqi live inside the cities in our region,” Ehmed said.

The Syrian Kurds have made clear that they are ready to become an official safe haven for IDPs and refugees in Syria, if they get support for this goal.

“We need support to defeat ISIS all together and to build the needed security. Furthermore, we will need economic support and humanitarian aid to deal with the challenges. Finally, we guarantee that the UNHCR and co-operating NGO’s will be most welcome to work according to their own approach and programs,” the self-administration of Rojava said in a statement. 

The Iraqi Arabs who fled from ISIS hope to return home someday soon. “ Of course, we are waiting for the liberation of Mosul, we are eager to go back to our country,” Abu Ali said.

Besieged Kurds Host over 37,00 Syrians Displaced by War in Afrin 

Since May this year, thousands of displaced people have arrived in the town of Afrin in northwestern Syria, being hosted by Kurds, while Turkey closed its borders for Syrians fleeing the fighting between ISIS militants and Syrian rebel groups. 

On Monday, more than 1,274 civilians arrived in Afrin [known in Kurdish as Efrin], according to local sources. 

It’s estimated that since 25th May, more than 37,052 IDPs arrived in Afrin and the number is increasing after ISIS started to harass and kidnap local Kurds near al-Bab and Manbij in northern Syria. 

In total, more than 1,000 Kurdish civilians were kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. Moreover, fighting between Syrian rebel groups and ISIS are ongoing near the Turkish border towards al-Rai district, and the Syrian Democratic Forces are surrounding and fighting in Manbij city.

Most of the displaced civilians heading to Afrin come from northern Aleppo, also known as Shahba region, or from Raqqa, Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor. 

The local security police known as Asayish registers the IDPs and then allows them into Afrin. “They come to stay with their families in Efrin [Afrin], or are brought to the Rubar camp,” Kamal Sido, a consultant for the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), told ARA News. “The situation is very difficult for the people of Efrin, they have little water, bread, no electricity and no fuel,” he added.

“It’s difficult to bring goods from Aleppo through Nubul and Zahra to Efrin, because Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, Nusra, and others are attacking the road between Nubul and Zahra and north Aleppo,” he said. 

“Also, Turkey is making the situation more difficult for aid to reach Efrin, closing its borders for aid, and Syrian civilians are trying to cross the border at any cost in order to flee the war,” Sido told ARA News. 

Turkish border guards have killed several Syrian Kurds and Arabs that have tried to flee to Turkey.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon the United Nations to pressure Turkey to open its borders for fleeing civilians.

“Governments and UN agencies should end their deafening silence on Turkey’s abuse of Syrian asylum seekers and press Turkey to reopen its border to civilians fleeing the horrors in Syria,” Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch said in May.

According to Kamal Sido, civilians are fleeing to Efrin since the area is safe. “It’s not bombed by the Russians or Americans, and the local authorities in Efrin have a multi-religious project, and do not discriminate Arabs,” he said. “So far there is no help, the self-administration can help only, and there are also problems between the Kurds and the Syrian regime in Aleppo due to the cooperation between YPG and the USA,” he said. 

As a result, the local Kurdish authorities are struggling with the influx of IDPs, but nevertheless are providing a safe region to Syrians trying to escape the conflict.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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