Kurdish Refugee Camps in Iraq

This post was submitted by photographer Jon Vidar

I have photographed the Kurdish people of Southeast Turkey for four consecutive summers, and in 2008 crossed the border into Northern Iraq for the first time. Almost immediately I met a young Kurdish man from Syria working at a local rest stop. He told us about the mass riots which resulted in the deaths of dozen of Kurds in Syria. These riots had caused his family to flee their home to the refugee camp where they had spent the last four years.

My fixer and I decided to visit these people in the Moqoble refugee camp outside of Dohuk. What we found was a forgotten people encamped in tents provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that were meant to be only temporary. Women were waiting anxiously for a truck to deliver fresh food. Yet the Kurdish colors still hung high and the people were quick to invite us into their humble homes to offer us water—which we were afraid to drink.

Since I did not yet have the paperwork required to photograph within the perimeters of the Kurdish Regional Government, I was not able to stay long. However, the security guard on-duty turned his back for five minutes, solely because he believed that the story of these people needed to be told.

The refugees’ living conditions that I witnessed in Moqoble have remained etched in my mind. Having spent so much time working in the Kurdish region of Turkey and Iraq, I find myself deeply connected with the people. I wasn't able to return to the camp last summer because I was on my way to Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, to run a multimedia training pilot program for the nonprofit Tiziano Project. I do plan to go back to the region this summer and revisit the Moqoble camp, as well as some of the other Kurdish refugee camps in operation in Northern Iraq, to try to make a difference for the residents by telling the story of these forgotten people.

According to a UNHCR report published in 2008, over 2.4 million displaced people currently live in Iraq—the largest urban refugee situation that the organization has ever encountered. UNHCR supports 42,354 of these individuals. Of this, almost 16,000 are Turkish Kurds, 11,000 are Iranians of mixed Kurdish and Arab decent, and about 600 are Syrian Kurds. Kurdish refugees make up almost 65% of all refugees currently living in the country of Iraq.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

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