Photo essay: Seeking refuge in a country at war

Almost 250.000 Syrians have sought refuge in neigbouring Iraq, which is also at war. Life for most refugees in Iraq is one of inactivity and waiting, hoping for a change which does not seem to come.


All photos: Eduardo Jalil Soteras/DRC

In late February, when winter temperatures still clung to the days, parents around the Syrian refugee camps in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), echoed the same response when asked what their teenage children did each day: “Qias almukhayam tawal alyawm” (“Measuring the camp all day long”).

Sitting, face to face, on the thin coloured mattresses that form the central, and often only, furnishings in most of the tents scattered across the nine refugee camps in KRI, parents admitted worryingly that their children’s lives have become one of inactivity. The fact that their own predicament mirrored their children’s appeared secondary in importance.

Over 39 per cent of Syrian refugee children aged 15-17 are not attending school in Iraq. Until recently, secondary education options did not exist. And while Syrian refugees in KRI can legally work if they have a residency permit, competition from the hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis also seeking refuge in KRI, the economic slow-down the oil price free-fall has induced, and few jobs, have made it increasingly difficult for any Syrian to make a living in KRI. Personal savings, after five years on the move for many Syrians, have now long dried up. Of the 246,000 refugees from Syria in Iraq, almost all are living in KRI.

Ground down by the protracted exile and the limbo of living in a refugee camp, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that some 25,000 Syrian refugees left the KRI last year. Despite the fact that Syrians are welcome in the KRI where they live in so-called “five star” refugee camps, many more are expected to follow this year. Most have returned back to an uncertain life in Syria or, continue on to Europe in search of a better life. “Germany in the Spring” has become a cry for Syrians in Refugee Camps in KRI, determined to not waste their life in idleness.

Iraq photo essay 1

Syrian families wait for a supermarket in Kawargosk Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI, to open. Refugee families dubbed “extremely vulnerable” receive food vouchers from the World Food Program worth USD19 per person per month, while those categorised as “vulnerable” get USD10 per person, per month.


Iraq photo essay 2 (1)

This is Zain Al Sheikh, 38. The father of three young girls made it to Kawergosk Refugee camp in Erbil, KRI, in August 2013, like most of the over 10,100 refugees from Syria living in this camp. In 2015, he was diagnosed with cancer. Limited funding for NGOs to provide medical support in camps in KRI, has meant Zain has not received medical treatment this year. In addition to the millions of Iraqi’s displaced and affected by on-going conflict, it is estimated that 10 million people in Iraq will need some form of humanitarian assistance this year, straining local and international aid agencies already stretched resources.


Iraq photo essay 3

A man receives a shave in a barber shop managed and run by refugees from Syria in the Kawargosk Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI. In 2015, DRC Iraq provided 369 Syrians with business training which then led to the establishment of 30 new businesses supported by small grants.


Iraq photo essay 4

Male children and young men play football on a dirt pitch at Kawargosk Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI. DRC Iraq’s three newly-established Community Centers provided protection services to 11,671individuals.

 Iraq phoyo essay 6

A Syrian man exits a currency exchange shop in Kawargosk Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI. In 2015, in partnership with UNHCR, DRC Iraq conducted a joint Syrian Refugee Camp Livelihood Assessment to identify employment opportunities for refugees from Syria. Based on findings, DRC established a full-service Job Seeker Support Center in the Kas Nazan district of Erbil Governorate that provided business skills training to 100 beneficiaries, facilitated job placements for 80 beneficiaries, and supported the establishment of 16 businesses.


Iraq photo essay 6

Young boys prepare for their afternoon game of football, Kawergosk Refugee Camp, Erbil, Iraq. 


Iraq phoyo essay 7

Young men pass their time on a hill overlooking the Kawargosk Refugee Camp they live in. In 2015, DRC Iraq continued to take the lead in overseeing Camp Coordination and Camp Management activities in the four main refugee camps in Erbil Governorate: Basirma, Qushtapa, Darashakran and Kawergosk. Collectively, these camps serve over 27,000 displacement-affected people.


Iraq phoyo essay 8

Syrian children play in a local graveyard on the perimeter of the Kawargosk Refugee Camp.


Iraq photo essay 9

Daily line-up for bread at a bakery in Darashakran Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI. The camp houses 10,900 Syrians. 


Iraq photo essay 10

A young girl cradles her infant sister as she stands in front of an upgraded “weather-proof” shelter. DRC Iraq built over 400 permanent houses, benefitting over 1,200 vulnerable individuals last year in the KRI. The program also delivered Water, Sanitation and Hygiene services to 8,297 refugee households, providing hygiene kits. Cleaning items, distributing hygiene promotion and awareness-raising material on cholera prevention.


Iraq photo essay 11

Street life in what is considered a “five star” camp, Darashakran Refugee Camp. To better strengthen social cohesion, resilience and self-reliance of refugees living in the camps, DRC Iraq, working with UNHCR and the Erbil Refugee Council, has established 100 refugee representative committees to ensure inclusive community management of the camps.


Iraq phoyo essay 12

A family in front of their tent in Darashakran Refugee Camp.


Iraq photo essay 13

Father and son ride a Tuk-Tuk motorbike through Darashakran Refugee Camp. 


Iraq photo essay 14

A young girl plays alone in a dry water drain on the outskirts of Darashakran Refugee Camp.


Iraq photo essay 15

Children run freely along the banks of a dry water drain, Darashakran Refugee Camp.


Iraq photo essay 16

A young Syrian boy, seen through the window of a grocery store he sits in. Darashakran Refugee Camp.


Iraq photo essay 17

A secondary school teacher sits alone in an empty classroom in Qushtapa Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI. The secondary school was only able to open at the close of 2015, but pupils remain few with many youngsters having already left for Europe, according to the photographed teacher. DRC Iraq has worked to improve the sanitation facilities in its camps schools and other key public service facilities.


Iraq photo essay 18

Hissam Ahmad poses in front of his family tent in Qushtapa Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI. Mr. Ahmad runs a grocery store with a partner, but says the income is not enough to meet the basic needs of his family of nine. Hissam is considering leaving with his family to Europe.


Iraq photo essay 19

Mohammed-Hanifa Omar, 47, former owner of a heavy machinery company in Syria, poses in his tent in Basherma Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI. 


Iraq photo essay 20

A Syrian boy makes sure his football opponent keeps his distance,  Basherma Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI.


Iraq photo essay 21

The silhouette of women carrying their young children spills onto a NGO service office in Basherma Refugee Camp, Erbil, KRI.


Danish Refugee Council in Iraq

In 2003, following the advent of military operations in Iraq, DRC became one of the first organisations to provide humanitarian assistance, opening an office in Diyala and soon after in Basra. Today, DRC Iraq has extended its operations to nine governorates across the country with offices based in Anbar, Baghdad, Dohuk, Erbil, Karbala, Kirkuk and Najaf. Key program areas include; Emergency Response and Preparedness, Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM), Protection, Sustainable Livelihoods and Social Cohesion, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Shelter. The program manages four Syrian refugee camps with UNHCR in the KRI.