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UNHCR to open new section of Gawilan camp to host refugees fleeing Turkish troops

On 26 October, the United Nations opened a new section of a camp for the displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan to host refugees fleeing Turkish troops in northeast Syria. As the Bardarash camp has reached its capacity, new arrivals will now be hosted in the new section of the Gawilan camp.

“Around 11,000 refugees are now living in Bardarach, which is at capacity,” Rashid Hussein Rashid, spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, told AFP. “So we opened a new section of the Gawilan camp to host 310 refugees who arrived today from Syria.”

How many people have fled?

According to the UNHCR, as of 25 October 2019, 11,292 refugees crossed through informal crossing points since 14 October. Most of the refugees are arriving from northern Syria – Sare Kani village, Qamishly city, Hassaka governorate, Gre Spe village, Darbasiya village, Til Tamir village, Derike village and Amoda village.

A total of 10,699 refugees are now hosted in Bardarash camp, and 180 refugees are hosted in Domiz I camp. 413 refugees have left Bardarash Camp, after security clearance by Assayesh and registration with UNHCR, either for family reunification or because they have been identified as extremely vulnerable individuals.

From 26 October, new arrivals were accommodated in Gawilan camp, which is 30 km further south of Bardarash camp. New tents have been pitched and the new sector in Gawilan can accommodate up to 1,588 families. Gawilan camp was established in September 2013 and currently accommodates 8,115 Syrian refugees. In the event that Gawilan Camp reaches its full capacity as well, new arrivals will be accommodated in Garmawa IDP Camp.

The Turkish offensive

The Gawilan camp has already been hosting 1,850 families who fled to Iraq when conflict first erupted in neighboring Syria in 2011 but the Turkish offensive has further prompted an exodus of tens of thousands, in the latest humanitarian crisis of Syria’s eight-year civil war.

Turkey moved into northern Syria on Wednesday 9 October after the US President Donald Trump pulled American troops out of the area. Turkey and Russia last week struck a deal in Sochi for more Kurdish forces to withdraw from the frontier on both sides of that Turkish-held area under the supervision of Russian and Syrian forces. On 26 October, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said some 2,000 Syrian troops and hundreds of military vehicles were deployed around what Turkey calls its “safe zone.”

Since the launch of the Turkish military invasion, alongside a high number of civilian and military casualties, at least 300,000 citizens have been displaced. Newly displaced families continue to seek shelter in camps, makeshift sites, communal shelters, with family, friends or acquaintances. Many of them have been displaced multiple times from one area to another in Al-Hassakeh, Tal Tamer and Raqqa.

Tom Peyre-Costa, spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Iraq, recently told Middle East Eye: “Kurdish authorities in Iraq expect to receive, on average, 1,000 refugees per week… But the humanitarian community expects much larger numbers if the escalation of violence does not stop immediately.”

The NRC has said the number of cross-border refugees may swell to as many as 50,000.

The Gawilan camp

The Gawilan camp is a remote site, managed by a Syrian team, situated in the desert of the Duhok region about 90 minutes’ drive to the north west of Erbil and 140Km from Duhok. Opened in March 2013, the camp has three schools with 58% of children in the camp registered but classes are overcrowded and there are still many children that have to work to help raise an income for their families. Children as young as twelve work in a local construction site and others travel into the cities to try and make ends meet.

IOHR visited the camp in September 2018 with Abdullah and Tima Kurdi who are the father and aunt of Alan Kurdi, the little Syrian child whose body was found lying on a beach in Turkey. Alan Kurdi became known as “the boy on the beach” and his death, and that of his brother Ghalib and and mother Rehanna, galvanised the international community in 2015 to open their borders to more Syrian refugees.

IOHR visited with the Kurdi Foundation to encourage parents to send their kids to school rather than out to work. Over 800 school uniforms were locally sourced and delivered to the children of Gawilan camp. The camp Principal spoke of the challenges faced in her school which included a leaking roof and a lack of teachers who were willing to be based in the camp full time. Now with this new influx of refugees the pressures will increase on an already fragile environment.

Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR, described the experience as “it was so humbling to see these bright alert kids living under breeze block and canvas wanting to learn and thrive. Now more than ever the international community needs to come together to help support their education and safety at this crucial time.”

IOHR visit to Gawilan Camp in 2018

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