This crowded camp, which is where many families have taken refuge from the violence that has wreaked havoc on homes, livelihoods and lives in Syria, is now where many families find themselves in limbo – unable to return to Syria, trying to find odd jobs and pass the weeks and months. The Kurdistan Regional Government manages the camp, which has schools and a small medical clinic, but the number of refugees strains those resources and many live in flimsy plastic tarps that blow over when a windstorm comes through. There are mounds of garbage, and sewage runs down walkways in between the makeshift dwellings.
Sebastian Meyer/Getty Images for Save the ChildrenIt’s hard for me to imagine the shock those who dwell here have experienced – leaving their homes, jobs, communities and schools – and beginning a new life of uncertainty and daily hardship. That is reality for 1.5 million Syrians, a number that is hard to fathom when you speak to just one family and hear what have been through. And what is most difficult to grasp is that these families are – in a relative sense – the fortunate ones, with millions more inside Syria subject to violence, food shortages and a medical and educational infrastructure that has become unrecognizable in more than two years of fighting.
On the day of our visit, Aras, a father of six children, is out in the midday sun trying to rebuild the tent where he and his wife and 6 children live. Two of them are in the hospital, he says, so we meet Rebaz*, 5, Govand, 4, Harem 3, and little Shalha, 1. Health problems – rashes, diarrhea – are a problem here, and expected to worsen as the summer months grow more unrelentingly hot. We go inside their tent, where the boys play amidst the pots and pans and cans that make up a small makeshift kitchen in one corner.
The children who live in tents nearby are curious – as we take photos we show them their images on our phones and camera. Several boys pose repeatedly, smiling proudly at each new image of themselves, or with their friends or siblings.
Aras tells us the tent they now call home was damaged in a strong windstorm that completely wiped out nearby families’ homes. His is still standing, but many families have had to rely on the good graces of others as they wait for a replacement tent, their dwellings reduced to a pile of plastic by the strong winds.
Several people gather to talk to us, one man emphatically says what he needs for his family – “no car, no money, just home -- one home!”
Before leaving we walk through rows of tents of the newer arrivals – those who came later to a camp built originally for only 10,000. We meet two-month-old baby Banaz*, who was born one month before her family fled the violence in Syria, completing the last leg of their journey into Iraq on foot with what belongings they could carry. They don’t know what the future holds for them – right now life is about the day to day, trying to find work, cleaning and maintaining their small sliver of space, and raising their small infant and two-year-old daughter in a world of painful unknowns.
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