Languages: Kurdî ‏سۆرانی‎

Under Permanent Threat – the Makhmour Refugee Camp

Information Paper on the Current State of the Refugee Camp Makhmour (Maxmur) May 2023


  • KNK’s Urgent Call to UNHCR to stop Iraqi Army’s aggression against the Kurdish refugees in Makhmour (Maxmur)
  • Chronology of incidents in the Makhmour Refugee Camp
  • Letter of the Residents of the Makhmour Refugee Camp to the UNHCR in Geneva
  • A life under permanent threat – The Makhmour Refugee Camp
  • A Brief Overview of the Maxmur Refugee Camp


Urgent Call to UNHCR to stop Iraqi Army’s aggression against the Kurdish refugees in Makhmour

On May 20 the Iraqi Armed Forces surrounded the UNHCR Makhmour (Maxmur) Refugee Camp with tens of armoured vehicles, special forces and police personnel, and barbed wire fences.

Over two decades after being forced from their homes in 1994 in North Kurdistan (Turkey), the people of the Maxmur Camp are forced to endure new threats and challenges.

Since its establishment, this civilian refugee camp has been a perpetual target of the Turkish state. Turkish warplanes and drones (including armed drones) often fly above the camp, terrorising the refugees of Maxmur and leaving them to wonder when the next attack will come. The stated goal of the Turkish state, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his AKP-MHP regime, has always been the destruction of the camp and the elimination or dispersal of its residents. The full might of Turkey’s modern military is used against this refugee camp, and it has also been regularly attacked by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Iraq, which cooperates closely with the Turkish regime.

What the Turkish state could not achieve, the Iraqi government is now aiming to accomplish.

The Maxmur Camp, home to approximately 11,000 people including thousands of children born into statelessness, is officially under the authority of UNHCR. Unfortunately, however, the agency’s silence and inaction following threats and attacks against the camp show it to be more aligned with the ruling parties of the region than with its stated mission of saving the lives and protecting the rights of refugees.

UNHCR has the responsibility and the diplomatic and political means to stop Iraq, which signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the agency to enhance the protection of refugees in 2016, from violating the rights of the Maxmur refugees and must intervene immediately to save the lives of people whose homes in exile have now been surrounded by the Iraqi Armed Forces. This unwarranted, aggressive action by Iraq against a large civilian population coupled with the Iraqi security forces’ dismal human rights record is cause for serious concern, and immediate intervention is imperative.

In order to prevent any escalation that could endanger the lives of thousands of refugees, UNHCR must immediately intervene to protect the people of the Maxmur Camp.

Executive Council of the Kurdistan National Congress 20.05.2023


Chronology of incidents in the Makhmour Refugee Camp

Saturday, 20 May 2023
Early on Saturday morning, a delegation from the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior and Defence arrived in Maxmur without prior notice to in order to install a barbed wire fence around the self-managed camp.

Under pressure from Turkey, Iraq wants to fence in the camp and eventually clear it.

The delegation was accompanied by Iraqi military personnel, including special forces, and police. The security forces arrived at the camp with dozens of armoured vehicles to enforce the installation, which will include the fencing of the camp, the deployment of Iraqi police and military units, the closure of all entrances and exits except for the main access, the installation of concrete military barriers on the access road, and the installation of observation towers in the area.

While the people of Maxmur resisted the attempt to fence off the camp, members of the Iraqi army and police fired warning shots into the air to disperse demonstrators, injuring one of them.

The injured resident is reported to be undergoing surgery in the camp’s own clinic. The protesters reacted to the injury by throwing stones, and the situation remained tense.

Sunday, 21 May 2023
The people in Maxmur Camp continued to resist the Iraqi army.

Monday, 22 May 2023
All the entrances and exits of the camp, where about 11 thousand refugees live, have been closed by the Iraqi army. The blockade is jeopardizing the lives of the residents of the camp where there are many seriously ill refugees.

A delegation of mothers of Maxmur, who want the problem to be resolved through dialogue, held a meeting with the Iraqi authorities, where they made clear that they did not accept the camp being turned into a concentration camp.

Tuesday, 23 May 2023
Despite opposition from the refugees, the Iraqi army continued their preparations for fencing in Maxmur Camp. Heavy construction machinery was being used to dig trenches for fence posts along the roads of the refugee camp.

Wednesday, 24 May 2023
By Wednesday, the residents of the camp had been holding a vigil to protect the camp for five days. Opposite the points where the Iraqi forces are stationed, people had established a barrier with their own bodies. Everyone from 7 to 70 was taking part in the resistance, and, in the evenings, mothers’ laments were rising from the resistance areas.

UN representative came to the camp after years
According to the residents of the camp, UN representatives reappeared in Maxmur, due to their persistence. This was the UN’s first visit after 2018 in connection with security issues and, in 2022, there were talks with UN in Baghdad and Mosul, but not a single positive activity had taken place. During the meeting a letter and other information was given to the UN representatives.

Thursday, 25 May 2023
Iraqi soldiers tried to surround the wells that supply water for the camp. The Iraqi military had positioned additional units at strategically important locations around the camp.

Letter of the Residents of the Makhmour Refugee Camp to the UNHCR in Geneva

In 1990s, the Turkish state pursued a policy of war against the Kurdish people within the country, denying the existence of the Kurdish people while seeking to eliminate the Kurdish identity through mass arrests, assassinations, and large-scale displacement occurring. The state’s scorched tactics destroyed thousands of villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Many of those driven from their homes sought refuge in urban centres in Turkey and Europe, while others fled to Iraq/Southern Kurdistan.

Many of the adult refugees now residing here in the UNHCR Makhmour Refugee Camp fled from Turkey to Iraq in 1994. Later that year, in an effort to defend their rights, the Kurdish people initiated an indefinite and irreversible hunger strike, and this protest ended when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) acknowledged our status as political refugees. Furthermore, as refugees, we are provided with certain safeguards per Iraq’s Political Refugee Act (Act 51 of 1957).

After being driven from our homes, we faced continued attacks and intimidation by Turkish forces and those of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Iraq, compelling us to move from place to place, residing in various camps in Iraq including Biheri (Bihêrê), Sharanish (Şeraniş), and Bersawa (Bersîve), Atroush (Etruş) and Geli Qiyame in the Dohuk province, Ain Sifni/Ninova and Nehdara in the neighboring province of Mosul.

In 1998, through the collaborative efforts of the UNHCR and the Iraqi authorities at the time, we were relocated to Makhmour, with approximately 9,500 refugees arriving here with nothing but the clothes on their back and whatever they could carry. The camp is located just outside the city of Makhmour, south of the city of Erbil near the provincial border with Nineveh (Mosul), in disputed territory near the border between areas controlled by the Iraqi central government and the region administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

While the location was far from ideal, we had no option but to start new lives under these circumstances. The UNHCR provided us with essential humanitarian aid, and we began to reconstitute a society in exile, complete with an elected assembly and autonomous women’s organisations that promote and protect gender equality.

The UNHCR worked alongside authorities of the Iraqi central government until 2003. Following the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, the UNHCR continued its operations in the camp in collaboration with the KRG. The UNHCR Office in the camp established and coordinated various programs and initiatives focused on education, healthcare, and infrastructure, which continued until 2014. Over the years, the camp grew significantly,  with thousands of children born into statelessness.

In that year, Iraq and the Middle East were heavily impacted by economic crises and the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group, which attacked and occupied large swathes of Iraqi territory, subjugating the peoples of the region and massacring civilians.

The spread of ISIS throughout much of Iraq had dire consequences for our community, with ISIS attacking and briefly occupying the Makhmour Refugee Camp in August 2014, forcing residents to seek shelter until its liberation. Even after their expulsion from the camp, ISIS periodically attacked nearby areas, causing damage, injuries, and death. After a two-month period of displacement, we returned to the camp and were able to partially receive humanitarian aid from the UNHCR.

Once we returned to the camp following the expulsion of ISIS, we were able to receive some humanitarian aid from the UNCHR until May 2015, which was essential for our security and well-being. However, after May 2015, the KDP began to display an increasingly hostile approach towards our camp, disrupting the efforts of the UNHCR, which then ceased providing humanitarian aid.

Since 2016, the KDP has hindered the arrival of UNHCR representatives from the Erbil office to investigate our conditions and humanitarian requirements. Even when we were able to arrange meetings with the Erbil office, political pressure made it difficult for them to visit the camp. Despite our numerous requests, we have not received any responses, and, as a result, we have been deprived of essential services such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure (including water, electricity, and roads).

Following Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum on 25 September 2017 against the will of the Iraqi central government, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) was plunged into a crisis. Soon thereafter, the Iraqi central government’s forces were deployed in Makhmour, with Iraqi government forces taking complete control of the camp’s security. After the arrival of Iraqi forces in Makhmor, we met with the UNHCR office in Erbil, who informed us that the UNHCR office in Mosul would be responsible for the camp going forward. We then visited the Mosul office and were introduced to its staff, though since then the Mosul office has failed to fulfil its humanitarian obligations and duties with respect to the Makhmour Refugee Camp, including providing for our safety.

Since 2017, our people have been subjected to continuous waves of attacks by the Turkish state, which uses armed drones and warplanes to attack our people living 300km south of the Turkey-Iraq border. The victims of these attacks have mainly been civilians, including a number of children, who have been forced to live in exile for up to 30 years. Dozens of our people have lost their lives so far.

Furthermore, since 2019, the KDP-led regional authorities have prevented our people from traveling to cities in the KRI, leading to the deaths of five pregnant women requiring urgent medical attention and depriving thousands of workers and university students of their daily activities. The government of Iraq should end its silence and take a strong stance against the ongoing political pressure of the Turkish state and Turkish military aggression against our camp aimed at terrifying, isolating, and dispersing us.

The UNHCR office in Iraq has failed to take a stance against these ongoing attacks and hostile actions and has not made any statements on these issues. With the assistance of the Iraqi government, limited access to some essential services, such as the police and medical services and government offices, has been granted. However, since 2015, UNHCR’s contact office inside the camp has been closed, and visitors are not permitted. These inhumane acts violate international laws and norms and show disregard for the UNHCR’s mission of safeguarding the rights and well-being of people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. Despite raising these issues in meetings with UNHCR representatives in Iraq and submitting reports on our situation, no actions have been taken. It is unclear how much the UNHCR office in Iraq is acting on the information provided and decisions made by the General Office in Geneva.

For decades, our community has been victimised by the Turkish state’s policies of annihilation. This brutal aggression has followed us from place to place in Iraq and we struggled to find a safe haven and rebuild our lives, and, while the Turkish state openly announces its intent to eliminate us and uses the full might of its modern military to kill, maim, and intimidate our people here in Makhmour, we are nonetheless determined to survive and promote and preserve the society that we have built here in exile.

We implore the UNHCR General Office in Geneva to carefully investigate the plight of the refugees here at Makhmour Refugee Camp and to take full responsibility for safeguarding our lives and our rights as political refugees. It is essential that you fulfil your obligations by taking concrete steps as soon as possible to end the destructive attacks aimed at our dispersal and elimination.

We remain very willing to provide any further necessary information on the increasingly dire plight of our people and would be pleased to host any delegations seeking to visit the Makhmour Refugee Camp and will do whatever we can to facilitate such visits.

We eagerly await your response and wish you success in your efforts to safeguard the rights of refugees across the world.

The Residents of the Makhmour Refugee Camp – Makhmour, Iraq – May 2023


Makhmour Refugees Camp in the Crossfire of the Power Battles

The people of the Makhmour (Maxmur) Refugee Camp, now coping with new threats and challenges over two decades after being forced from their homes.

The Maxmur Camp has a strategic location, serving as the gateway to Southern Kurdistan (Iraq) from the south. In August 2014, as ISIS was overrunning large parts of Iraq and Syria, the terrorist organisation targeted Maxmur as a step to advancing on Erbil, the capital and largest city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

ISIS invaded and occupied the camp, though the people of Maxmur joined other fighters in resisting the advance of ISIS, and popular militia, self-defence forces, women and youth alike, finally expelled ISIS after days of fighting, preventing a catastrophic invasion of Southern Kurdistan by mounting resistance on behalf of all humanity and not allowing ISIS to pass. After this victory, Mr. Massoud Barzani, then President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Kurdistan Region of Iraq, visited the Maxmur Camp and expressed his thanks to the self-defence forces there for their role in this victory.

The increasing IS attacks in the disputed areas, the recent security developments on the ground, and the KDP’s insistence on sending its own military forces to the region clearly indicate that the region around the Maxmur camp will become much more unstable in the near future. Accordingly, the population of Maxmur camp views the approaching return of the KDP Peshmerga to the region as a worrisome development. The Maxmur refugee camp has been under massive military, political, psychological, and logistical pressure from the KDP for more than 20 years. Recent developments will add to this pressure.

Turkish states war against Maxmur
The refugee camp Maxmur in is one of the permanent targets of the authoritarian Turkish regime. Turkish warplanes and drones often fly above the camp, terrorising the refugees of Maxmur and leaving them to wonder when the next attack will occur. The goal of this regime has always been the destruction of the camp. Even though Maxmur has recently been a side issue on the agenda of the fascist AKP-MHP regime, the civilian refugee camp has been regularly attacked by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which cooperates closely with the Turkish regime.

Iraqi Government’s silence is complicity
The Maxmur camp is officially under the responsibility of the Iraqi central government. However, it does not receive any support from Baghdad. Even its official status as a political refugee does not currently result in the camp’s population receiving any support from Iraq. Since May 2018, the UN has ended all assistance to the camp due to pressure from Turkey and the KDP. Since then, Maxmur has not received any support from the UN. The population of the refugee camp has thus been subjected to the most adverse conditions. They have therefore turned to ensuring their survival through their own efforts. Many of Maxmur’s residents work in various areas of Iraq to cover their living expenses.

Additional punishment by embargo
Meanwhile, the camp has been under a strict embargo by local authorities for nearly two years, restricting the flow of supplies into the camp and keeping anyone from leaving, even for medical emergencies. Since 19 July 2019 the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) closed all ways in and out of the Maxmur Camp, which is now surrounded and under a strict embargo.


A Brief Overview of the Maxmur Refugee Camp

Maxmur (Makhmour) is a town 60 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan

Region of Iraq. The Maxmur Refugee Camp, located in Maxmur, is a refugee camp recognised by the United Nations that, since 1998, has been home to thousands of refugees from Northern Kurdistan (Turkey). The Kurdish refugees of Maxmur predominantly originate from areas in the provinces of Şırnak, Hakkâri and Siirt in the Kurdish majority southeast of Turkey, and left their homes in 1993 and 1994 as a result of Turkey’s scorched earth campaign against a Kurdish insurgency, which destroyed thousands of villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. In 1993-1994 as the Turkish state pursued a brutal campaign of aggression against the Kurdish people, denying the existence of the Kurdish people, prohibiting the expression of Kurdish identity, and suppressing Kurdish culture, while using its military to destroy thousands of villages and displace hundreds of thousands of people. Thousands of displaced Kurds, many of whom would end up in Maxmur, fled across the border into Iraq, where they faced continued attacks and intimidation by Turkish forces. The United Nations granted these refugees official political refugee status, though they continued to face adversity and were compelled to move from one location to another.

In 1998, years after leaving their homes, they arrived at their current location, a patch of dusty, windswept land in Maxmur – located south of the city of Erbil near the provincial border with Nineveh (Mosul). Over the course of the last few years, the refugees had developed their own autonomous systems of self-governing society, and they brought this model with them to Maxmur where it was able to flourish. Since its founding, the population of the Maxmur camp has grown to over 11,000, with many children of camp residents being born stateless.

Building a life in the Maxmur Refugee Camp
Approximately 9,500 refugees arrived in Maxmur in 1998 with nothing but the clothes on their back and whatever they could carry. Living in tents and rudimentary shelters covered with nylon sheets, the people soon began to reconstitute the society they had developed since being forced from their homes years before. An elected general assembly was formed to govern the camp and address the concerns of its residents. A robust system of education was implemented, with Kurdish as the primary language of instruction along with foreign language lessons in Turkish and English. A women’s center and women’s assembly are important organisations within the camp, and the camp’s residents boast that the Maxmur camp provides a progressive model for women’s rights that the rest of the region should follow.

However, life was never easy in Maxmur. Food and water were delivered from outside. Food is prone to spoilage during the scorching summer months when temperatures often exceed 45°C (113°F). The water, which arrives in aging tankers, is thought to be a major cause of health problems. About half of the camps residents, born to refugee parents in Iraq, are stateless – citizens of neither Turkey nor Iraq. An entire generation has been born in exile without any nationality, hoping someday to see the place that their parents and the generations before them called home.


Our Demands: UN’s immediate interventions are necessary to protect the life of the refugees in Maxmur

  • We call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Iraqi Army and Special Forces
  • We request that the United Nations condemn Erdogan’s ongoing violations of Iraqi sovereignty and threats and attacks against civilians in Makhmour and elsewhere in the country, and to work with the Iraqi government and local authorities to end the embargo, allow aid to reach the camp, guarantee the safety of the camp’s residents and also to end the Turkish military aggression against the camp
  • We call on the UN to immediately ensure that the embargo on the Maxmur Camp is lifted, and that the Maxmur Camp has access to food supplies and medical care
  • The UN should force the Iraqi government to take responsibility for crimes committed against civilians living within Iraq’s borders who have now been targeted by military airstrikes using Iraqi airspace.


For more info:
Kurdistan National Congress, Rue Jean Stas 41, 1060 Brussels, Belgium
Telefon: +32 2 647 30 84, Fax +32 2647 6849