“We left at two in the morning,” says the 40-year-old man who wanted only to be known as Ammar. “We walked for four hours and we carried our children, heading north. We wanted to get to Iraqi Kurdistan, where there is stability and peace.”
NIQASH met Ammar with his family while they were standing in a long queue at the Badriya checkpoint, on the road leading into Dohuk province, part of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have left their homes after the Sunni Muslim extremist organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, took control of various cities and locations in Iraq.
“We’ve been waiting here for more than four hours,” said the Mosul-born and bred local. “The people at the checkpoint have asked us to get a guarantor from inside the province so that we can enter Iraqi Kurdistan. We’re just waiting for him to arrive. And we’re here because we want to have some peace of mind until our own city becomes safe again.”
The governor of Dohuk, Tamir Ramadan, had said that no displaced person would be allowed to enter the province without a guarantor, someone who could identify the person and guarantee their good conduct.
At a press conference Ramadan explained that the guarantor system had been put in place in order to ensure that Iraqi Kurdistan remained secure. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society estimates that “in just two days, more than 300,000 individuals have entered Kurdistan region … and more than 32,000 displaced people from Mosul had to sleep in the open”.
Temporary camps are being built in various parts of Dohuk. One is in the Khazar area, another is in the Shikhan district and a third may be built in the Zamar area, if the crisis continues, the governor said.
At the camp near Porusawa in Shikhan, people were working to prepare for the arrival of refugees. Kurdish organizations were cooperating with the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, or IOM, to erect around a thousand tents.
“Since Thursday the camp has been receiving families,” said an engineer working on the site. “We’ve finished building all the tents, now we’re getting water and electricity organized. Everything should be completely finished over the next few days.”
At the moment Raeda Fallah’s family is one of the only ones in the camp. Her husband is sick and their six children are all young. Her husband alsohas a second wife, who is expected to join the family with her children shortly. “Then we will be 17 people,” Fallah says. “Before we got here we spent two days at a relative’s house. We have nothing,” she said. “Not even much food. I should go and get something to eat but my two young sons and my husband are sick and I can’t leave the children here by themselves. So I’m waiting here until a doctor comes.”
On the way back from the Porusawa camp, the Badriya checkpoint seemed less crowded. There were just as many cars lined up but there seemed to be fewer people waiting.
Ahmad Saleh was one of those who had just come over the border into Iraqi Kurdistan.
“There are no battles going on in Mosul,” he told NIQASH. “ISIS controls all of the key areas in the city but it is allowing people to move around freely. Mostly we were afraid that the government would come in and start fighting and that the city would become a battleground. That’s why we left. And we have friends nearby that we can stay with until things improve,” he explained.
Interestingly enough on the other side of the road there was family that wanted to return to Mosul. Sitting in the passenger seat of the car in which they were travelling, Ismail al-Nuaimi said that their relatives in Mosul had called them and told them it was safe to come back.
“There’s no war going on in the city,” he said. “And we don’t really have enough money to stay away a long time. We were in a motel in Dohuk and it was costing us US$50 a night. That’s beyond our means.”
Back in Dohuk city, an older man with a white beard who wanted to be known only as Abdullah, was sitting in front of a hotel.
“We waited for six hours at the checkpoint,” he said. “But finally they allowed us to enter the city. Here we feel safe. We are staying in a hotel but like every other hotel, it is too expensive for us. It costs US$60 per day. But we can’t really do anything about it so we are resigned to paying that price until things get better in Mosul.”
Abdullah says he and his family left Mosul after loudspeakers began to broadcast messages that said people should flee because there were going to be fierce battles going on in the city.
“When we heard that we just left everything in the house. We brought enough money to cover our expenses for a few days and left the city in order to protect our children’s lives.”