Following the Turkish offensive called "Source of Peace" launched in North-East Syria on 5th of October, Iraqi Kurdistan is now facing an uninterrupted flow of refugees.
Whereas the offensive had only just begun, nearly 400 refugees crossed the border at Al Whalid every day. Today, they should be between 800 and 1000 per day. The General consulate of France and the authorities of the KRG (Kurdistan regional government) estimate between 30,000 and 50,000, the number of declared or illegal entry of refugees.
Only a few kilometres from the Syrian Orthodox monastery of Mar Matti, the Bardarash camp (formerly assigned to the IDP's Shabaks) has been reopened and already hosts thousands of Syrian families. This camp, with an initial capacity of 5,000 people, has reached saturation point. 2,585 families are grouped together, that is to say 10,839 people.
Given the emergency situation, both on the Syrian and Iraqi sides, SOS Chrétiens d'Orient has decided to set up an emergency humanitarian aid program. It also tends to minimize the great imbalance that this humanitarian emergency creates for a society already ravaged by years of conflicts.
On Saturday, 26th of October 2019, thanks to your donations, twelve Iraqi volunteers and four translators led by Antoine Brochon, head of mission in Iraq, brought three tons of food, or one hundred and fifty food parcels, distributed to 750 refugees in the Bardarash camp.
An operation conducted in coordination with the camp authorities and the Consulate General of France.
"At first I see 20, then 50, then 100, then 1000. As we are moving towards the Bardarash refugee camp, more white tarpaulin tents flocked with the UNHCF logo (United Nations High Committee for Refugees) appears on the horizon.
At the entrance to the camp, the sentinels check the vehicles and question the occupants about the reasons of their presence. As our head of mission leaves to talk to the camp staff, I see in the distance a column of foreigners in white chasuble. A team of "Médecins sans Frontières" enters, hands and backs loaded with medical equipment.
Other Japanese, South African and Saudi NGOs complete the humanitarian landscape. This camp is a microcosm of nationalities.
My eyes linger on Syrian families hugging. Probably a reunion.
by a soldier who waves at us to cross the wire fence. We pass in front of two prefabricated UN offices, probably census offices, and then in front of huge hangars where equipment or food is stored.
Our vehicles drive along the muddy roads to a small building run by the Barzani Charity Foundation (BCF), which is in charge of the camp's internal logistics.
For an hour, we have to wait, an opportunity for me to immerse myself in the observation of this sad landscape.
A camp where poverty and hope coexist.
Makeshift tents marked with a letter and a number spread as far as the eye can see. On the main dirty road, children modestly dressed run after each other, as if this escape was just a game. Their innocence is as touching, as it is heart breaking. Sitting on the floor, mothers of families watch with a distracted eye their incessant coming and going. From a distance, I see a baby lying on an uncomfortable tarpaulin. He doesn't cry, he looks up at the sky, his hands beating the air.
Next to a bin, around which bags of waste are accumulating, Tamia*, a little girl in sport clothes, calls out to us. Her sister and parents left Qamishli on horseback. "Erdogan, bombed us!" Does she really understand this ruthless adult world that plays with life for financial interests and energy resources?
"I don't want to go back to Syria." One thing is certain, these children, woken up at night by frightening thumping noises, can't imagine going home. They are now uprooted. Do they know what awaits them? They know what they have left, not what they are heading to.
Do you think you would be able to leave your property and country overnight knowing that you may never return? Do you feel this fear grabbing you? The one of not knowing if you can eat tonight, sleep in a safe place? Will you be able to start a new life in an unknown country, housed in a prefabricated building in rudimentary conditions? What you know is over, everything is uncertain in the unknown. Should you have stayed during the offensive and hoped, locked up in your house, that the Turkish soldiers would quickly leave the outskirts of the city?
These were questions that Iraqi and Syrian civilians asked themselves at the time when Daesh terrorists came. After so many years of war, a single shell was certainly the cause of the escape of these thousands of families, who had held so long.
"I paid $700 to flee Qamishli," confided a mother with her eyes lost in the void. They already didn't have much, now they have nothing. Their escape cost them everything but their lives. Her 2-year-old daughter waved at me and smiled before putting her pacifier back in her mouth.
On my right, a young woman wearing a red dress, with a broom in her hand, tries to clean the surroundings of her tent and chase away the weeds. A gesture that may seem harmless and superfluous here, but which recalls the memory of a simple life.
My attention goes to a 3 years old boy slaloming between the tent poles planted in a relatively flat ground. A group of women facing me smiled at this little merry-go-round. I find myself thinking about what they can say to each other: “so small and already so tired”; “he has no future”; “enjoy my son, tomorrow you will live through difficult days.”
A food emergency operation for Syrian families.
In front of each hangar, queues of hundreds of people are waiting. Registration? Food? There's no way to know.
From time to time, refugees, mostly women and children, come to us for help: medicines, food, orientation in the camp, etc. We guide them to BCF staff, who are best able to respond to their requests.
We are brought to the edge of the camp, where the last Syrian refugee families arrived during the night. Hundreds of people gather around our five vehicles, loaded with food. A sensation of moist and humid heat gripped me. Is it the season? Or the hundred people around me? Anyway, I get out of the vehicle and take a breath of fresh air.
The distribution can begin. Each refugee must present a coupon with a number indicating their eligibility to receive a food pack. One by one, we empty our vehicles by giving one, two or three bags of food depending on the composition of the family.
The operation is going smoothly, although some people try to sneak up on others. However, they are quickly called to order by BCF staff, who sent them back at the end of the queue. We are in an ordered chaos.
I see on the faces of my fellow volunteers a mixture of excitement and concentration. We are in the middle of an emergency humanitarian aid operation, happy to help despite the unfortunate situation of these families. And this happiness grows when we see a feeling of relief on their faces. Some of them leave with a smile, others with tears of joy.
And for good reason, they come back from afar! With Abu Danny, one of our Iraqi translators, I metthree young people in their twenties who had fought a squad of ISIS for a few hours before fleeing towards Kurdistan. In a violent conflict, one of them left his arm there, but surprisingly not his good mood!
The grey clouds of the morning are beginning to make way for the sun, and as our vehicles leave Bardarash camp, the first rays of light shine through the camp's white tents.
A new day is beginning for these thousands of families with the hope of better days on the horizon.”
Thanks to your donations and the tremendous commitment of the teams on the spot, 150 families, who arrived at the camp during the night and had nothing to eat, were able to find some comfort.
Continue to help these refugee families and especially support those who are still in Syria under the Turkish threat.
Raphaël, project manager in Badaresh.
Antoine BROCHON, Head of Mission in Iraq.