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The New Arab

Iraqi refugees wait to return home in Syrian refugee camps

Syrians and Iraqis suffer side by side in the Hassakah province [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 February, 2018

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Iraqis, fleeing battles with the Islamic State group, or hoping to reach Turkey, have become trapped in refugee camps in north Syria.
Thousands of Iraqi families share refugee camps with displaced Syrians in northern camps. As many return to their homes after fighting in their area stops, many are still in Syria after losing all their possessions, unable to afford to return.

Al-Mabrouka camp is run by the Kurdish administration and has recently transferred 15 Iraqi families from the camp in Ras al-Ain in the Hassakah governorate to al-Hol, another camp further south in preparation for a transfer to Iraq. 

The camp was established in 2016 and holds around 8,000 refugees, mostly from Deir az-Zour and its villages. 

"Most Iraqis came from the areas of Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and Nineveh province, especially Sinjar, and are concentrated in the al-Hol camp in southern Hassakah," said journalist Rudi Kurdi.

Kurdi said that the Kurdish administration did not bother Iraqi refugees, however young Kurdish-Iraqi refugees could experience pressure to join Kurdish forces.

Many Iraqis consider Syria a temporary stop en-route to Turkey.

"Thousands of Iraqis have ended up here, most of them Turkmen, from the Tal Afar area.  They came to the Idlib countryside before crossing into Turkish territory, but were stranded," said Abdullah al-Hassan, an Iraqi refugee living in the countryside of Idlib.

Al-Hol camp, five kilometres from the Syrian-Iraqi border, is one of the largest centres for Iraqi refugees in Syria and suffers from limited aid from UN agencies and the Kurdish administration.

The camp, originally established during the Iraq war to receive Palestinian refugees, has been targeted by the Syrian regime's forces several times. It was turned into a home for the families of the Islamic State group, until the Kurdish protection forces seized it and expelled the organisation from the region in November, returning it to refugee camp.

"The people in this region are unable to help us. Their conditions are similar to ours. We have received little relief from Kurdish administration. We rely on aid smuggled across Iraq from Iraq," said Omar Basri, an Iraqi refugee from Fallujah.

The camp suffers from poor health care facilities, and lack of heating, and many children and the elderly especially suffer from respiratory diseases during winter months.

There is also a lack of basic hygiene facilities; as a result of overcrowding, temporary bathrooms have been established by building pits, posing a further health threat to the camp’s residents in the summer if the situation continues.

"There is a doctor from the Kurdish administration who visits the camp, but does not give us the necessary medicines, so we have to buy and smuggle them from Iraq due to the lack of Syrian medicine," Basri said.

The local doctors, in cooperation with the UN, do however provide regular vaccinations to children in the camp.

The local community and charities in the region are trying to help refugees in the camp by sourcing materials to repair tents, and transfer drinking water, despite the local population also suffering from the conflict in Syria and the long-running battles to control the area. 

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