Turkey attacks Kurdish refugee camp in northern Iraq

June 25, 2021
Makhmur refugee camp in northern Iraq. Image: Firat News Agency

The 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Beirut is notorious.

About 3000 refugees were brutally slaughtered when Israel — which had earlier invaded Lebanon and forced the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) to evacuate to Tunisia — unleashed the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia on the refugee camps.

Today, another large refugee camp in the Middle East is facing the same prospect. This time, the attackers are Turkish armed forces and the camp is the UNHCR-recognised Makhmur refugee camp in northern Iraq/South Kurdistan.

About 13,000 Kurdish refugees from south-eastern Turkey live there, in poor conditions, after fleeing in 1998.

Speaking on Turkish state TV on June 1, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to “clean-up” the Makhmur refugee camp, which is located 180 kilometres south of Turkey. In a clear violation of international law, Turkish armed drones bombed the camp on June 5.

Three civilians were killed and two others wounded, in what local MP Rashad Galali described as a drone strike that targeted a playground “near a school” in the camp.

According to a dossier on the Makhmur camp released by the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) on June 23, this attack was just the latest of many:

• A Turkish military drone attack killed three young women — Havva Aydoğan (22), Azime Aydoğan (23), and Ayshe Ahmed Ferhan (17) — on April 15 last year, as they were tending to their farm animals.

• At least three bombs were dropped near the camp on July 19, 2019, injuring two civilians and damaging the vineyards and orchards of camp residents.

• A Turkish air attack on the camp killed four civilians on December 13, 2018.

The Makhmur refugee camp has also been regularly attacked by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) regime of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq. According to the KNK dossier, the corrupt KDP regime acts as a “quasi-client-state of and co-conspirator with the Turkish regime”.

The KDP has surrounded the camp since July 19, 2019, placing it under a strict embargo, restricting the flow of supplies into the camp and keeping anyone from leaving, even for medical emergencies, the dossier explained.

“The Makhmur camp is officially under the responsibility of the Iraqi central government. However, it does not receive any support from Baghdad. Even its official status as a place for political refugees does not currently result in the camp’s population receiving any support from Iraq.

“Since May 2018, the United Nations has ended all assistance to the camp due to pressure from Turkey and the KDP ... The population of the refugee camp has thus been subjected to the most adverse conditions. They have therefore turned to ensuring their survival through their own efforts.”

Many of Makhmur’s residents were compelled to work in various areas of Iraq to cover their living expenses, but since the strict embargo was imposed in 2019, this is no longer possible.

Life was never easy in Makhmur, but now it is becoming intolerable.

“Food and water have to be delivered from outside. Food is prone to spoilage during the hot summer months, when temperatures often exceed 45°C.

“Water, which arrives in aging tankers, is thought to be a major cause of health problems.

“About half of the camps residents, born to refugee parents in Iraq, are stateless — citizens of neither Turkey nor Iraq. As such, an entire generation has been born in exile, without any nationality, hoping someday to see the place that their parents and the generations before them called home.”

The Makhmur refugee camp has also faced attacks from Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists, the dossier points out.

“In August 2014, as ISIS was overrunning large parts of Iraq and Syria, the terrorist organisation targeted Makhmur as a step to advancing on Erbil, the capital and largest city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. At that time, ISIS invaded and occupied the camp.

“Thankfully however, the people of Makhmur united to form popular militias and joined Kurdish guerrillas in resisting the advance of ISIS. The heroic stance of self-defence involved women and youth, as they collectively prevented a catastrophic invasion of Southern Kurdistan. However, this resistance was also on behalf of humanity, as they proved for the first time that the barbaric ideology of ISIS could be defeated by free people.

“After this victory, Masoud Barzani, then-President of the KDP and Kurdistan Region of Iraq, visited the Makhmur Camp and expressed his thanks to the self-defence forces, and congratulated them for their role in the victory.

“Yet, it is the KDP and the Turkish state itself that allow ISIS to assert itself in the Makhmur region through their logistical support. The ISIS fighters have their safe havens on Mount Karadağ, just a few hundred meters away from the KDP Peshmerga bases. The mountain itself is located about three to four kilometers away from the Makhmur refugee camp.

“In the depths of this mountain range, the ISIS fighters have set up their camps. From there, they have repeatedly attacked the camp’s population in recent years.”

The KNK is calling for immediate international intervention to protect Makhmur refugee camp:

“We request that the United Nations condemn Erdoğan’s ongoing violations of Iraqi sovereignty and threats and attacks against civilians in Makhmur and elsewhere in the country, and work with the Iraqi government and local authorities to end the illegal embargo on the Makhmur Refugee Camp, allow aid to reach the camp, and guarantee the safety of the camp’s residents.

“We call on the UN to immediately ensure that the embargo on the Makhmur Camp is lifted, and that the Makhmur Camp has access to food supplies and medical care.

“We call for an end to Turkish military aggression against the Makhmur Camp. If Turkey is allowed to act with impunity, it will continue targeting the residents of the Makhmur Camp, resulting in more death and destruction.

“The government of Iraq must take responsibility for crimes committed against civilians living within Iraq’s borders, who have now been targeted by military airstrikes using Iraqi airspace. We therefore call on the government of Iraq to act against this violation of its national sovereignty.

“We call on the international community, the defenders of human rights, and global civil society to react against the illegal and deadly acts of Turkish military aggression against the Makhmur Camp. Refugees are supposed to be a protected vulnerable population, not target practice for an invading force’s bombing campaigns.”

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