Syrian Kurds find refuge in Iraqi
June 19, 2012
DOMIZ CAMP, Duhok, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', —
Syrian Kurds of all persuasions, from soldiers who
did not want to kill their own countrymen to those
seeking to escape the violence, have found refuge
across the border in Kurdistan in north Iraq.
Most had to be smuggled across the border, avoiding
Syrian security forces, after facing what they said
was discrimination and oppression in Syria.
But they say they have been welcomed by Iraq's
autonomous Kurdistan region, which hosts the Domiz
refugee camp in Duhok province, where about 1 500 of
them are now housed.
Abu Samir, a 56-year-old from Qamishli, Syrian
Kurdistan (Western Kurdistan) in northeast Syria,
left his hometown for Iraqi Kurdistan (Southern
Kurdistan) in order to protect his son, a soldier
who had deserted from the Syrian army.
"Either he kills women, boys and children or he
himself would be killed," Abu Samir said. "He did
not kill and he escaped."
Abu Samir then had a choice.
"Either I hand him over to authorities and they kill
him in front of me, or we escape together."
He chose the latter option, travelling by vehicle
with seven other family members until they were near
the border, then sneaking past guards to cross by
"The Kurdistan region welcomed us and we are
grateful," Abu Samir said.
"Because I am Kurdish, I preferred the Kurdistan
region and I am comfortable here," he said. "I do
not consider myself a refugee. I feel that I am
among my family here, I do not feel I am a
"The situation of Kurds in Syria is desperate and
there is racism," he said.
Kurds are mainly spread across four countries -
Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. While Iraq's Kurdistan
region is autonomous, there is no independent
Home to 1 500
Abu Samir and his family now live in the Domiz camp,
with its dirt roads and long lines of dusty tents
set up on concrete pads.
It is home to about 1 500 Syrians who have sought
shelter in Kurdistan, according to Claire Bourgeois,
Iraq representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The number of people there now looks set to rise, at
least temporarily, with Bourgeois saying a new
Kurdistan government policy requires Syrian refugees
elsewhere in the region to move to Domiz.
Mohammed Abdullah Hammo, a refugee official from the
Kurdistan interior ministry, said the regional
government wants all the refugees to be registered
although they could later live elsewhere.
The United Nations says that more than 86 000
Syrians have fled to surrounding countries to escape
a brutal crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's
regime on an uprising against his rule, although
only around 5 400 have ended up in Iraq.
International organisations such as the UNHCR, the
International Organisation for Migration, local NGOs
and the Kurdistan government are assisting the
refugees in Domiz, most of whom are Syrian Kurds.
Kurdistan currently provides electricity and food
for the camp, though the World Food Programme will
provide aid from next month, Bourgeois said.
Some areas of the camp are strewn with rubbish, but
conditions are generally good for a refugee camp,
and better than the slums where many Iraqis who were
forced from their homes by threats or violence still
Life in Domiz is also far preferable to what awaited
the refugees had they stayed in Syria, they say.
Jamal, who asked to be identified only by his first
name, was a sergeant in the Syrian army stationed in
Hama, a city that has been the site of frequent
protests against Assad and clashes between rebels
and government forces.
The orders "were for us to open fire on people in
demonstrations", he said, adding that anyone who
violated them "would be immediately executed or
detained, and no one will know where he is".
Jamal did not return to Hama after going on leave in
April, instead heading to his home town of Malkiya
near the border with Kurdistan.
He described the journey as "scary", with numerous
checkpoints along the way. To get through without a
pass, he pleaded that his mother and father were
sick, and eventually got home.
A smuggler then helped him and nine others across
the border at night to the safety of Kurdistan.
"I do not have the soul and conscience to kill my
brothers in the street," Jamal said. "I cannot kill
a woman or old man, I could not bear that, and I
A 21-year-old university student from Qamishli, who
asked not to be identified, said he was a protester
and had been detained and beaten.
"I went to the demonstrations demanding freedom and
against the miserable regime," he said.
"The Syrian regime detained me once or twice, they
threatened me and they beat me several times," he
said, also alleging that Syrian forces had fired on
a funeral in Qamishli.
Waiting for regime's fall
Despite tight security measures in Qamishli, he was
able to escape, and paid a smuggler $400 to bring
him to Kurdistan with a group of about 20 people.
He found a job at a cafe in Kurdistan's capital
Arbil, but he said the wages were poor given the
"I want to live in a democratic country and I want
rights like any other Syrian citizen," he said. "I
will stay in Kurdistan until the fall of the
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