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Increasing numbers of Syrian Kurdish refugees in north

[Syria] Ahmed Mohamed Ramadan, his wife and his handicapped son. IRIN
Refugee Ahmed Mohamed Ramadan, says he cannot have Syrian citizenship even though he was born there.
A refugee camp opened near the northeastern Iraqi city of Dahuk earlier this year to house Syrian Kurds is rapidly spilling out into surrounding fields as families continue to cross into northern Iraq. The camp, 20 km north of Dahuk on the road to Zakho, was originally opened in 1999 to house 200 Iraqis seeking sanctuary from Saddam Hussein's administration in the Kurdish-controlled north. Today, according to camp authorities, there are some 47 Syrian families and 57 single men, a total of 362 people. The refugees said they left Syria due to worsening conditions. However, aid agencies say that some have also recently returned home. With a line of buildings set up next to one of the former Baathist administration's old military forts, the camp has accommodation for 27 families. Others are living in tents. "The flow of refugees across the border has slowed, but shows no signs of stopping", camp director and refugee, Nawzad Hamid Abdullah told IRIN in Dahuk. "All refugees smuggled themselves across the border, so statistics on their numbers are not exact. But we know of 11 families who have crossed in July." Regardless of when they arrived, the stories told by refugees are near identical. The majority said they came from in and around the eastern Syrian city of Qamishli located in northeastern Syria, which erupted into inter-ethnic violence this March during a football match between a Syrian Kurdish team and one traditionally supported by the country's Baathists. "Inter-ethnic tensions had been on the rise since the beginning of the war against Saddam," said Mohamed Seyed Omar, a shepherd from Qamishli. "When Iraqi Kurds helped the Americans, we were branded traitors." Khabat Derk was present at the match. "They were shouting 'Death to the Kurds, long live Saddam, long live Fallujah," he said, referring to the central Iraqi city at the heart of the anti-Coalition insurgency. "At least three Kurds were shot dead in the stadium." The deaths led to Kurdish rioting and, on 12 March, a huge protest in Qamishli against the Syrian government. "That was when the crackdown really began," said Ahmed Jamil Bakir, pointing to three bullet wounds on his body he claimed to have sustained during the protest. Taken to hospital under armed guard, he said he escaped with help from a Kurdish doctor and crossed into Iraq a week later. Others had to wait longer. "They confiscated my lorry, my only means of making money," said Haval Abdullah. "We had to sell most of what we had to raise US $300 for the smugglers." Now sharing a sweltering plastic-lined tent with his wife and three children, he arrived at the camp last week. Local authorities insist the camp is properly supplied both with electricity and water, by tankers. All tents had fans, although a power cut had prevented them working. But refugees said they could do with more washing facilities and that sometimes they had to wait days for a shower. "Some people wash themselves in their rooms," said one. There was general agreement, though, that food - supplied by the local authorities - was in short supply. "We eat three times a day, but the portions are tiny," complained Feroz Muhamed Abdullah, who shares two three by four metre rooms with her husband and nine children. She cooks on the porch, using a double gas heater supplied, along with her pots, mattresses and blankets. "The refugees do not yet have food ration cards," explained Nawzad Hamid Abdullah. "Families keep coming, and a decision has been made to wait for the situation to stabilise." The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is supplying non food items to camp residents and has also registered them. Two families, including Mrs Abdullah's, are in need of medical attention. At least two of her children were suffering from advanced muscular dystrophy. "We were denied care in Syria," said her husband Ahmed Mohamed Ramadan. "Here at least we can use the hospital." The camp has also been visited by local doctors and a mobile medical team from international NGOs. Some families, like Ramadan's, are to be given help by US Army medical specialists. UNHCR is also looking at better options for healthcare. Back in Dahuk, the governorate director for internally displaced people and refugees, Musa Ali Bakir, insisted that all families had begun filing for asylum with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "There are interviews every Thursday," he said. Again, though, the continued arrival of refugees, coupled with delays caused by a change of local UNHCR staff, has meant some families are still waiting. "Whatever happens, it is vital that proper accommodation be found at the very least for those families living in tents," said Ali Bakir. "Winters up here are very hard."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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