Domiz camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian refugees resort to the unknown



By: Stefan Koolen


ARA News

Situated in Duhok province, about half an hour by car from Duhok, the main camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq is located. Domiz camp seems to have been build on dust. While cabdrivers come and go, the dust swirls up and does not seem to settle. In august, during Ramadan, temperatures reach 49 degrees Celsius.

Although the refugees have fled their homes and have arrived in a desolate place, the entrance of the camp shows remarkable activity even during Ramadan and the hottest part of the day. Ramadan is a luxury for these refugees, a luxury most of them cannot afford. Even though the refugees are apparently safe, the camp remains a battleground. This time the battle is for food and water, against the dust and the sun, and against the lack of chances to improve their situation.

Many of the refugees lign up during the day at the food distributing program (World Food Program WFP), just outside the camp. The WFP started a voucher program, issuing food to those in need. There, the people start to gather during the middle of the day, while the sun is burning mercilessly.

At the entrance of the camp, various activities take place. There are people arriving, others leaving, little shops, people registering at the UNHCR and even the regular delegation from an aiding country or organization. Domiz camp has been visited by several delegates and celebrities (Pau Gassol, Ciwan Haco, Angelina Jolie, and others).

Although many visits have already taken place, the refugees seem eager to share their stories with visitors like us. They want to demonstrate their situation in the camp. They also try to find a way to leave the camp and to move to a house in a city in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In some cases, refugees are even looking to go elsewhere. Some even try to leave to a “western country”, although very few people seem to have such an aspiration. Those who have such plans are often adolescent who dream of any place with sufficient opportunities and broader horizons. They seem ambitious and eager to seize any opportunity. Unfortunately, they are currently provided with limited and unremarkable opportunities. 

No public transportation is available in the camp which is not located on walking distance of any major village or city. It is approximately 20 km from Duhok; the fact that leads the refugees and their visitors to find a mean of transportation themselves. The most common way is to take a taxi. Taxis are common and relatively cheap in Iraqi Kurdistan, but of course non-affordable to all refugees. 

Apparently, most of the refugees in the camp are families with children, which seems logical since families with children are the most vulnerable group in need for aid. They suffer the most from the consequences of the ongoing war in Syria. For families (with children) it is harder to flee, to find adequate housing, to move, to gather sufficient food and water, to find education and medical assistance. Therefore, the camp shelters more families than individual refugees who only have to look after themselves. The camp provides food, water, some medical assistance and a relative security. But most importantly, it provides a degree of certainty which random living on the streets cannot. 

A child is likely to be better off in the camp than on the streets of any city in the Kurdistan Region. However, the problem is that the services for this vulnerable group do not really improve in the camp. In a city, the situation seems quite different; a child can live on the street, but changes may come, specially because the city provides opportunities to the family members and confronts the Iraqi Kurds with their situation.

Some of the refugees who live in Domiz work, but cannot afford an accommodation in a city. Renting a house in Iraqi Kurdistan seems to be quite expensive. Renting a house will cost a family about 500 US Dollars a month. Therefore, they continue to live in the camp. Others “choose” to live on the streets of a major city like Erbil, and others can afford housing.

The situation of refugees living on the street in Iraqi Kurdistan remains extremely poor. In August 2013, another camp was established in Erbil to provide shelter. Many refugees arrived and had no place to sleep and are therefore forced to live in makeshift “tents” on the streets of the city. According to the UNHCR, approximately 40.000 Syrian refugees live in Erbil.

Syrian refugees find employment relatively quickly. However, they do not receive a very high, sufficient salary. However, safety remains a major benefit, beside the fact they are able to find employment vacancies in their “new society”. This allows them to maintain their professional skills and help their families to leave the Domiz camp.

Many of these refugees find employment and housing. Erbil is booming with activity and the refugees are able to profit. These refugees are willing to accept any kind of (respectable) work. Finding a suitable job in Iraqi Kurdistan is based on skills, but most importantly on the right and beneficial contacts.

The work they find is often below the level of their educational achievement and experience. In many cases, the salary is not equal to the job. For instance, two doctors (one general practitioner and other a specialized surgeon) earn 500 to 600 US Dollars a month, one of them also receives housing. Many Syrians who find employment receive a salary that is barely sufficient to cater for their basic needs. However, they remain vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation.

The situation of the refugees at the Domiz camp, for many Iraqi Kurds, remains a distant problem. Therefore, it is less likely that individuals will try to contribute to the improvement of the situation of those refugees. Although Iraqi Kurds and their government have overall been very hospitable to the Syrian Kurds, it is a common feature of mankind that “the will to help – i.e. to make a difference –” is woken when personally confronted with the actual victims. Camp Domiz therefore allows the problem to remain distant and contributes to the lack of further improvement and integration for Syrian refugees.

Another vulnerable group is the disabled. The war in Syria has resulted in many injuries. Apart from the psychological injuries, many refugees suffered physical injuries. Some others, of course, suffered more natural causes. In the camp, their situation remains extremely poor. Aid organizations in the camp struggle with providing sufficient basic needs for the healthy. As a result, those with special needs cannot, or can only incidentally, be looked after. Some of them, children in particular, have to be carried around, while others are forced to remain in their “beds.”

Many adolescent in the camp are eager to find opportunities. Some of the adolescent are highly educated and all of them have potential. They struggle to find opportunities and to fulfil their potential as much as possible. The war in Syria and their current situation are obstacles. However, these obstacles do not seem to diminish their eagerness to grow. On the contrary, these obstacles seem to strengthen their remarkable aspirations. There is a risk that the potential of many of them, when the war continues, and no opportunities will arrive, will never be achieved. This situation will most likely result in suffering to these adolescents, and may harms the development of the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish society. 

Camp Domiz provides the basic safety lacking in Syria, beside some of the basic needs. On the other hand, the most vulnerable, children and disabled, lack sufficient facilities. Unfortunately, but logically, the camp contains many of these vulnerable people. For adolescents, the camp seems to be a obstacle for a brighter future.  


Source: ARA News


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