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 Syrian Kurdish refugees find safety, but little comfort, in Iraqi Kurdistan

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Syrian Kurdish refugees find safety, but little comfort, in Iraqi Kurdistan  20.4.2012  

A group of young Kurdish refugees from Syria live inside a mosque in the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Rudaw See Related Links
April 20, 2012

DUHOK, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — A stream of Syrian Kurdish refugees keeps arriving in the Kurdistan Region, adding to the 130 families and approximately 700 men who have already fled the government crackdown.

The majority of refugees have settled in the Dumiz and Mukble camps outside Duhok.

Muhammad Selim, 20, was a driver in the Syrian army. His unit served in Homs at the height of the clash between rebels and Syrian security forces. Selim says he had no choice but to flee for his life and cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan.

Selim was the only Kurdish soldier in his unit and says his Arab officers interrogated him every time he went home on leave. In the last questioning, just before he escaped, he was accused of participating in protests against Bashar Assad’s regime.

“I was instantly arrested upon my return from leave and was handcuffed and transported to Halab (Aleppo) prison. I was arrested for 16 days and tortured three times a day,” says Selim.

In the end, Selim was released in a general amnesty by President Assad. He immediately left with a group of smugglers for the Kurdistan Region.

Other Kurdish soldiers who have defected tell similar stories, and insist that since the beginning of the uprising in Syria last year, more than 50 Kurdish soldiers have died in mysterious circumstances. Selim believes the soldiers were executed by the army for refusing to fire at protesters.

Selim says soldiers in the Syrian army are not given leave to see their family and, most of the time, they have to bribe their officers to take a few days off.

“We paid $100 each time we requested leave,” he says.

The defected soldiers in the camp say they put down their guns and joined the protests, but Syrian secret police reported their names and details to the army so that they would be punished.

“Syria is only safe for the Baathists,” says Abu Gulistan, a Kurdish refugee at the Dumiz camp. “We constantly get killed or displaced. My brother, for example, was arrested two years ago and no one knows his whereabouts now.”

Abu Gulistan joined the anti-Assad protests and was immediately summoned by security forces. He went into hiding for 10 days and then fled the country due to the fear and psychological pressure mounting on him.

The authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have provided tents and some basic needs for the refugees, but Abu Gulistan says their living conditions are primitive.

“There are many snakes and scorpions in this region,” he says. “In just two days, we have killed 50 scorpions.”

Abu Gulistan asks the KRG to provide cement flooring for the tents in order to protect them from the snakes and scorpions.

A group of single young men, among them Lazim Derki, 23, have settled inside an old mosque in Dumiz camp. Derki complains that they live very uncomfortably, have no restrooms, drink filthy water and sleep on the floor.

“But they give us very good food,” he says.

Derki’s friend, sitting next to him inside the mosque, says that conditions were much worse when they had just arrived to the safety of Kurdistan.

“We are not sorry for coming to the Kurdistan Region,” he says. “They did not help us until now. I have not bathed for the past 35 days because we have no water.”

Other refugees appreciate the protection they have found on the eastern side of the border.

“The Kurdish government has helped us a lot by not letting us go hungry and protecting us,” says Abu Jigar, 45.

Derki and his friends say they need to find jobs for their expenses, but that the people of Duhok do not understand their desperation.

Two of Derki’s friends who went looking for jobs in Duhok city were disappointed by the experience.

“They went to a company asking for a job. The owner of the company took their identification cards and tore them into pieces and told them not to show up again,” says Derki.

The group of young men who live inside the mosque feel they should return to Syria where they would feel at home, but the risk is too great, they say. Syrian security forces have videotapes and photographs of their anti-government activities.

Muhammad Abdullah Hamo, director of Refugees and Immigration in Duhok, told Rudaw that they have initiated an aid campaign for the Syrian refugees and so far have been able to collect 70 tents that will shelter 34 families and 300 bachelors.

Report by Abdullah Niheli and Sulaiman Alikhan - Rudaw

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