21/06/2013 08:29 BST | Updated 21/06/2013 08:29 BST

A Glimpse of Life at a Syrian Refugee Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan

The vast and sprawling refugee camp at Domiz near the Iraqi Kurdish city of Duhok is a stark reminder of the human interests at stake in the increasingly fraught debate about how to stop the slaughter in Syria.

The camp is 40 miles from the Syrian border but a world apart from the daily nightmare of indiscriminate shelling and death squads that has killed 100,000 people in just two years.

Domiz comprises about 50,000 people - mainly Kurds, who have been brutally wrenched from their homes, networks, possessions and who have lost family and friends.

But it's unlike other camps because their fellow Iraqi Kurds have welcomed them with open arms, through an open border to an open camp.

Iraqi Kurds know the pain of being refugees and show generous solidarity to those fleeing another Ba'athist dictator. It's not an easy task. In addition to Domiz, another 100,000 people live in two smaller camps and in other Kurdish towns and cities. There are about 7,000 in the rest of Iraq.

Up to a thousand people enter Iraqi Kurdistan every day. Bushra Halepota, the head of the UNHCR in the north of Iraq, told me that there could be 350,000 people registered in Iraqi Kurdistan by the end of the year.

I had unfettered access to the camp on two separate occasions this month and saw how organisers are struggling to provide basic water and sanitation. The camp is now in its eighth phase and there will be many more. Shelter box tents supplied through Rotary International are dotted around the camp, together with more tattered tents and rudimentary concrete buildings. There are bakers, barbers, grocers and sweet shops. It is a small town.

Its schools cope with children from 6-16 and the children seem cheerful and resilient. The health centre seems well organised but busy - its seven doctors see 500 people each and every day. The service is so good that local Iraqi Kurds also make use of it. Serious water-borne diseases have been averted but that won't be so easy as temperatures soar to 45c before plummeting to minus 6c in the winter.

Domiz is also an open camp, with much coming and going with the outside world. Many wealthier Syrian Kurds have settled in good homes outside the camp. But many others live in overcrowded houses - sometimes with seven families sharing a two bedroom house, given high rents. Some are waiters in a booming economy which can absorb them for now.

Domiz has higher morale than other camps but everyone wants to go home. How? Jamal Suleman, the camp administrator said that the priority is to 'stop the war but he knows that the refugees will be away for a long time, even if that happened today.

The Kurdistan regional government deserves credit for providing the land and basic facilities but it is straining their resources. They want the world to know that the refugees are there and won't be forgotten. We must not get used to them being marooned there.


The Barzani school project is raising funds to build cabins in association with the Phoenix Resource Centre, a British environmental charity. Funds can be sent to the syrian refugees account: sort code 55-70-37; account number 811 978 53.