Not all the stories coming out of the Domiz refugee camp are bad news. The camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, about 20 kilometers south of Dohuk city in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan and 60 kilometers from the Syrian border, is home to over 50,000 refugees of the Syrian crisis.
For instance, Nariman and Rashid are a young couple who met in the camp and got married here. The couple knew each other before in Syria but because they lived in different cities, it was hard for them to meet. Nariman arrived at the Domiz camp four months ago and several days later, Rashid’s family turned up too. Living in close quarters, the couple feel even more in love and a few weeks ago they were married.
The newlyweds were given a tent to live in and they have two single beds. Despite being refugees, they say they’re very happy.
The couple is not alone. About 42 people have married since they arrived at Domiz and around 600 Syrian children have also been born in the camp.
The Domiz camp is the largest in Iraqi Kurdistan. For most of 2011 and 2012, about a hundred people arrived here daily. However as the conflict escalates over the border, those numbers have sky rocketed to about 700 a day. There are around 12,000 families here and the population is relatively evenly split between men and women.
The US State Department recently reported that “over 110,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq, and most are now in Kurdistan. Domiz camp in Kurdistan accommodates approximately 54,000 persons, and two camps in Anbar province accommodate over 7,500 persons. In addition to those living in camps, there are many who live in villages and communities. In Kurdistan, Syrians are permitted to live and work in the community once they have registered.”
Everyone living in the camp gets food vouchers worth US$31 per month as well as a bed and medical care. Despite humanitarian providers best efforts though, to all the families here have tents to live in. Camp figures say that 3,301 families are living in 2,145 tents and that 5,250 further families are staying in 2,697 unfinished tents.
Many consider the Domiz camp the best one to be in because of the fact that refugees can actually leave the camp and travel into surrounding areas to find work or seek help from friends and relatives.
Not everyone agrees. Barjees Farman Hussein, the head of a six-member family at the camp, told NIQASH that he and his family were not getting enough food. “I go to work every day but I can’t make more than IQD3,000 or IQD4,000 a day [around US$3],” said Hussein, who sells cigarettes at the gate of the camp.
Poor conditions and winter weather have caused further suffering. There’s been an outbreak of hepatitis and pneumonia and during heavy rains earlier in March, over a hundred tents were destroyed. About 18 people were injured and one newborn baby died as a result of the latter.
This has meant that some refugees from Syria have wanted to leave the camp as soon as possible. “I saw spots on my son’s face,” Hassan Hamko, a father of two, explained why he left; happily he found a job in Erbil, another city in Iraqi Kurdistan and was able to relocate there.
But Hamko reiterates what many other refugees are also saying: “Although I was able to move out of the camp and into the city, what I really wish for is to be able to go back home to Syria. Many of us feel the same,” he concluded.