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Dreams of Rojava's young oil workers go up in smoke

By Hannah Lynch 13/3/2019
A bumpy dirt road splits lush fields, green with the first growth of the year. It rained the day before and the track is slick with a grey mud that mirrors the smoke hanging in the sky. This is the road to one of several ramshackle oil refineries in Rojava. Crude sloshing out of full trucks bouncing over the route had mixed with the ochre-coloured earth, forming the grey sludge that squelches under wheel. 

Black and white smoke belches out of a series of bubbling tanks and pits, operated by a gaggle of grease-smeared men and boys. Several times a day, the workers set alight the waste, sending a plume of jet black, acrid smoke into the sky where it catches the wind and trails across the countryside. 

Weekly they refine 300 barrels of crude oil into 170 barrels of gasoline and diesel. 

Jihad Tamo is from Kobane. After earning a law degree he spent two years doing compulsory military service, finishing just before the outbreak of civil war in 2011. He returned to Rojava and now travels some 350 kilometres east to work 10 days at a time at the oil refinery. He has never worked as a lawyer.

In the two years he has been working here, 25 workers have died in fires that blazed out of control, he said. 

It's a dirty day's work and labourers take occasional breaks for a glass of tea and a cigarette. 

Mozaffar Ali is 17 years old and has been working at the refinery for two years. His job is to pump oil from the trucks into tanks.

Asked why he is not in school, he replies bitterly, "Do you think I'm happy here? What kind of school are you talking about? Do you think I have the right to go to school?"

His family needs the money to afford to eat so he has no choice but to work 10 hour days, earning 5,000 Syrian pounds ($9.70) per day.

Ali turns back to work under a low-hanging moon. A dirt-streaked dog scavenges for food, blending in with the background as a roar of fire sends up a new plume of choking smoke to obscure the setting sun. 

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