Ahmed told me about how he acted when he found out that the “Daesh” bandits were drawing near. Being a former soldier, he picked up his kalashnikov, determined to defend his village, as he felt was his duty. The women and children were sent to safety, while Ahmed and several of his neighbours prepared for the fight.
The attackers had heavy-duty military equipment; the villagers only had a few machine guns. They managed to defend their houses for about three hours. At that point, they had to decide whether to stay and let the attackers massacre them, or whether to follow the women and children. They went with the second choice. Daesh, as Islamic State militants are pejoratively referred to in the Middle East, had just gained another piece of land. Ahmed had just become a refugee.
At first he thought he would only be away from his home for a few months. He did not believe the bandits would manage to keep the land they had gained. He was no pauper and so he spent the first month of his refugee life staying at a hotel. However, Daesh maintained its positions and Ahmed was beginning to run out of money. He started camping in the forest. Then winter came. Ahmed set out for a refugee camp in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq. That is where I met him.
Close to the Edge of Bearable
In the Czech Republic and all around Europe, many of those who claim to be “defending national/European values” [against migrants] have been saying that people in the Middle East do not want to fight Daesh and rather choose to be refugees. This is not true. Nor is it true that they choose to migrate because they dream of living on the rich continent, Europe. Neither Ahmed nor his approximately five thousand new neighbours in the Dawdia camp want to go to Europe. All they want to do is to wait, as close to their towns and villages as possible, until the sectarian violence is over and they can go back home.
However, as their wait in the makeshift conditions of the camp gets longer and longer, their prospects of returning home one day become more and more dim. For many of the refugees, the dangerous, expensive and illegal journey to Europe then becomes a promising alternative. Their will to accept the “interim” lifestyle at the camp also depends on the extent to which the local conditions are bearable.
One glimpse at the Dawdia camp is enough to show how much these people can take. The camp is encircled by barbed wire. Most of the residents live in white tents that stand in the mud; the slightly more comfortable Portakabins represent a minority. Laundry is drying on clothes lines stretched between the tents. Another thing that attracts my attention is the strange low concrete-and-stone buildings which look like the tops of wells and turn out to be improvised outdoor bread ovens.
There is a little marketplace in front of the camp, which could provide a source of income, but there is not much business going on. The camp with its five thousand inhabitants is located in the mountains, far from any larger cities, the only close-by locality being a small village. There really aren’t too many people to do business with.
The conditions at the camp are often on the edge of what one can bear, or beyond. During the first winter, which typically brings snow and temperatures of around minus 15 degrees Celsius in the area, the camp lacked diesel oil heaters. Thankfully, this has already changed. However, schools still miss basic equipment. They are overcrowded, children have to sit on the floor. This year, in addition, food package supplies weren’t working properly, as these did not include flour and basic ingredients for preparing bread. People had to live on rice, beans and oil, which is barely enough to survive.
Together and Free
The Diaconia of the ECCB has decided to direct its aid in Northern Iraq primarily to the Dawdia refugee camp. Not only because of the poor conditions mentioned. The camp has many characteristics which are quite unique and well worth being supported: it is open to people of all races and creeds. In this way, it is similar to the diverse society of Syria or Iraq in the time of peace; Christians, Yazidis and Muslims live side by side here.
This is far from usual in the area. It often happens, for example, that the local Christian monasteries only accept Christians, or that certain refugee camps are only open to Muslims. Another surprising factor is that the camp’s inhabitants have the freedom of movement, which, again, is nothing to be taken for granted. In many camps, people are not allowed to leave at all, which basically makes them prisoners – although the conditions are often incomparably better than those I’ve seen at the Dawdia camp.
Diaconia’s Centre for Humanitarian and Development Aid will focus on improving the living conditions at the Dawdia camp, while making sure that the camp preserves its openness.
You can send your donations for people at the Dawdia camp to the following bank account: 2400 3847 00/2010. Variable symbol: 318
Diaconia of the ECCB – Centre for Humanitarian and Development Aid helping at refugee camps:
Za´atarí camp, Jordan
- supplied: 45 Portakabins, 18,000 pairs of children’s summer shoes, 6,300 pairs of children’s winter shoes, 5,100 packages of sanitary articles, 7,300 pieces of children’s clothes
- established: “Peace Oasis” daily centre for young people aged 14-30
Dawdia camp, Northern Iraq
- supplied: 1020 packages with sanitary articles for families
- improved conditions at the local schools
Camps in Greece, Serbia, Hungary
- provision of food, water, sanitation
- psychosocial help offered
Camps in Myanmar
- help with fire prevention in camps: fire safety training, organising volunteers
In Jordan, Northern Iraq and Myanmar, the Diaconia of the ECCB is helping in cooperation with the Lutheran World Federation.
Eliáš Molnár, Diaconia of the ECCB – Centre for Humanitarian and Development Aid