‘From hell to jail’: Rojava refugees / By KAMAL CHOMANI

By Kamal Chomani: Kurdistan Tribune – 19-12-2013 – A  bitterly cold winter menaces some 235,000 Rojava Kurds (Syrian refugees) who sought safety and security in the Kurdistan Region (KR) as violence tore Syria apart. Over 12,000 of them, living in the Kawrgosk Refugee Camp, next door to the Kalak oil refinery, are gradually acclimatising to life under tents and have already endured intolerable muddy conditions and sudden floods caused by torrential rainfalls.

Often up against freezing temperatures, the residents lack adequate fuel supplies to keep their tents warm using oil-heaters. However, despite this and their densely populated tents and the shortage of clean water, the majority of inhabitants remain in high spirits.

After spending several hours in the camp speaking with residents and listening to numerous stories, it became clear that the Kawrgosk camp inhabitants could be divided into two main groups: those who have travelled to the KR primarily for economic reasons and those who are victims of the hideous conflicts between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Party Krekaren Kurdistan’s (PKK) offshoot in the Western Kurdistan, the PYD.

The former have eluded the war-torn country hoping to find jobs in the Kurdistan Region, but have now found themselves locked up in a muddily depressive camp, with the exceptions of very few who have managed to obtain permits though with minimal chance of finding jobs. The latter, however, are stuck in the fenced-off camp with armed men at the gate and a military base set up on top of a hill overlooking the camp. As a resident put it to us: “We escaped from hell to a jail”.

While tens of thousands of migrant workers from around the world are living and working in the Kurdistan region, freely working as street-sweepers, shop assistants, construction workers and oil refinery labourers, one wonders why the Kurdistan Regional Regime (KRG) particularly restricts the fellow Rojava Kurds living in the camps from visiting the large cities, finding jobs, integrating with the locals and contributing to the booming market. This would help alleviate decades of segregation and isolation by an artificial border that was defined and imposed by Western imperialists.

“We need many things, but above all, we need to be able to move freely in and out of the camp and into the densely populated cities where we can find jobs and support ourselves. It is impossible to maintain life in this condition, waiting for hand-outs”, a camp resident said.

Another resident spoke with us on the condition of anonymity: “If there were no conflicts between the parties (KDP and PYD), things would have been much better. Now we do not know what is going to happen for our future. We have left Syria for economic reasons, but now our lives have not improved, whereas we could have stayed and received aid from the KRG there. Furthermore, our youths might have been able to join Kurdish forces there to defend our land.”

The closure of the border by the KRG is thought to be partly a result of the conflict between the PYD and KDP. Had these parties worked together at the time, the KDP could have instead provided assistance and not interfered in the PYD-dominated territory, and the Kurds would have stayed in Rojava. Barzani has contributed a great deal to the division that currently exists among Rojava Kurds.

Walking through the main gate of the camp, we were accompanied by a group of twenty young men coming off a bus with a ministry of Peshmerga number plate, wearing Peshmerga uniform with ‘Zeravani’ insignias on their chests. It seemed that they were refugees at the camp who had been recruited by the KRG’s ministry of Peshmerga. In an interview, Ali told us: “Many of us are skilled workers. If there was a mechanism in place for us to obtain permits and find appropriate jobs, we could contribute a great deal to the local communities and also support ourselves. We don’t need to be an encumbrance to the international organisations and local authority”.

The PYD-KDP rivalry is intensely felt in the camp. Photos of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Masoud Barzani and the KDP are displayed in the barber-shops and grocery and fast-food shops that have been set up in tents.