Balloons and bunting celebrate the opening of the new camp. Photo by author.
QADIYA, Kurdistan Region – Twenty-four thousand people fleeing Islamic State (ISIS) violence are being moved into a new camp near the Kurdistan Region’s northern city of Dohuk.
What sets this camp apart, aside from its stunning views from the side of a mountain, is that it has been designed to go beyond the basic needs of its inhabitants. While the camp isn’t completely finished, in the next months it will boast several parks, a library, schools, a medical center, an Internet center and basketball courts.
“The objective we have is not just to provide shelter, but to offer a community environment to alleviate their suffering and reignite their hopes,” said Zirak Hamad, a representative of the Kurdish-aid group Rwanga, which built and manages the camp. “We want to transform their lives of hardship into one that they can enjoy.”
The majority of camp residents are members of the minority Yezidi religious sect from the Shingal (Sinjar) region to the west. Islamic State (ISIS) fighters began massacres of Yezidis in August, trapping thousands on a mountain for months and forcing a mass exodus of most of the 340,000 Yezidis in the area.
Rwanga estimates that half of the camp’s women have escaped from ISIS control.
“It’s been six months since we were forced to leave our homes, since we experienced genocide,” said Hadi Jabree Ali, speaking on behalf of the Shingal community in the camp.
“Daesh targeted us just for being Kurdish or Yezidi,” he added, using the pejorative A Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “Their sole aim is to destroy us. Because of this we have lost our women, children, many of whom are now sold as slaves in markets.”
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) pledged it will investigate ISIS crimes and pave the way for international criminal proceedings.
“A committee has been established to see if these crimes are considered to be genocide,” KRG spokesman Safeen Dizayee told a group of Yezidis at the camp on Monday. “If it is, the perpetrators will be brought to court.”
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that 330,000 internally displaced people in Iraq still live in substandard shelters that fail to protect inhabitants from harsh winter conditions, particularly tough in the northern Kurdistan Region.
The Qadiya camp is not designed to be a permanent village. Several people will squeeze into three by five meter rooms to sleep. But pre-fabricated cabins will do better than tents to keep out the cold, and residents have been provided flat-screen TVs and three pairs new shoes in each bedroom.
“We are very happy to see this model, and hope it will alleviate the sufferings of residents,” said Mr. Dizayee.
“We ask private individuals and companies to continue their efforts to help internally displaced persons,” he added, as the KRG is struggling to cope with an influx of 900,000 people from other parts of Iraq in the midst of a budget and security crisis.