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Weaponizing Embargo as Punishment:The Makhmur Refugee Camp

Information Paper on the Current State of the Refugee Camp Makhmur

Contents
1. Under Permanent Threat – the Makhmur Refugee Camp
2. ISIS still active around Makhmur
3. The Turkish State’s War against Makhmur
4. The Iraqi Government’s Silence is Complicity
5. Additional Punishment by Embargo
6. Immediate Interventions are Necessary to Protect Makhmur
7. A Brief Overview of the Makhmur Refugee Camp
8. Building a Life in the Makhmur Refugee Camp

Dossier Makhmur in PDF
1. Under Permanent Threat – the Makhmur Refugee Camp

The people of the Makhmur Refugee Camp (Mexmûr in Kurdish), are now struggling with new threats and challenges, more than two decades after being forced from their homes. The Makhmur Camp has a strategic location, serving as the gateway to Southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq) from the south.

In August 2014, as ISIS was overrunning large parts of Iraq and Syria, the terrorist organisation targeted Makhmur as a step to advancing on Erbil, the capital and largest city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. At that time, ISIS invaded and occupied the camp. Thankfully however, the people of Makhmur united to form popular militias and joined Kurdish guerrillas in resisting the advance of ISIS. The heroic stance of self-defence involved women and youth, as they collectively prevented a catastrophic invasion of Southern Kurdistan. However, this resistance was also on behalf of humanity, as they proved for the first time that the barbaric ideology of ISIS could be defeated by free people.

After this victory, Mr. Masoud Barzani, then President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Kurdistan Region of Iraq, visited the Makhmur Camp and expressed his thanks to the self-defence forces, and congratulated them for their role in the victory.

2. ISIS still active around Makhmur

Yet, it is the KDP and the Turkish state itself that allow ISIS to assert itself in the Makhmur region through their logistical support. The ISIS fighters have their safe havens on Mount Karadağ, just a few hundred meters away from the KDP Peshmerga bases. The mountain itself is located about three to four kilometers away from the Makhmur refugee camp. In the depths of this mountain range, the ISIS fighters have set up their camps. From there, they have repeatedly attacked the camp’s population in recent years. Thus, they pose a permanent existential threat to the people in Makhmur and are used against the camp like a kind of Sword of Damocles.

The increasing ISIS 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 Makhmur camp will become much more unstable in the future. Accordingly, the population of Makhmur camp views the approaching return of the KDP Peshmerga to the region as a worrisome development. The Makhmur 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.

3. The Turkish State’s War against Makhmur

The Makhmur Refugee Camp is one of the permanent targets of the fascist and neo-Ottoman expansionist Turkish regime. Turkey’s warplanes and drones often fly above the camp, terrorizing the refugees of Makhmur 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 Makhmur has recently been a side issue on the agenda of the fascist AKP-MHP alliance, the civilian refugee camp has been regularly attacked by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which cooperates closely as a quasi-client-state of and co-conspirator with the Turkish regime.

* Turkish forces have attacked the camp numerous times, including an airstrike on 13th December 2018 that killed four civilians.

* On April 15th 2020, a Turkish military drone attack killed three young women, Havva Aydoğan (age 22), Azime Aydoğan (23), and Ayshe Ahmed Ferhan (17), who were tending to their farm animals.

* On 19th July 2019 at 00:10, at least 3 bombs were dropped in the vicinity of the camp from the air.

* Two civilians were buried under falling earth due to the explosions. The wounded were rescued and taken to the hospital by camp residents, where they luckily survived.

* The bombing also damaged the vineyards and orchards of the camp residents.

* That same day, security forces of the KDP arrested civilian residents of the camp. The families of those arrested have not yet been able to see their relatives, and no information about them is available.

* Since 19th July 2019, entering and leaving the camp has been prohibited. No one is allowed to leave the camp, not even for medical or other emergencies.

* Camp residents who work outside the camp are not allowed to leave the camp, and many camp residents who work in cities like Erbil have lost their jobs.

* Discrimination, harassment, and psychological pressure is being exerted upon camp residents.

* Ongoing threats of violence are forcing camp residents to leave the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.

Speaking on Turkish state TV channel TRT on 1st June 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened Iraq with additional attacks, saying that Turkey will “clean-up” the UNHCR-recognized Makhmur Refugee Camp in northern Iraq, 180 km south of Turkey. Then, shortly after Erdoğan’s threat on June 5, Turkish armed drones simultaneously bombed the Makhmur camp, a flagrant violation of international law.

4. The Iraqi Government’s Silence is Complicity

The Makhmur 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 place for political refugees 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, Makhmur has not received any support from the United Nations. 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. And many of Makhmur’s residents are compelled to work in various areas of Iraq to cover their living expenses. 

5. 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 19th July 2019, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has closed all ways in and out of the Makhmur Camp, which is now surrounded and under a strict embargo.

6. Immediate Interventions are Necessary to Protect Makhmur

* We also request that the United Nations condemn Erdoğan’s ongoing violations of Iraqi sovereignty and threats and attacks against civilians in Makhmur and elsewhere in the country, and to work with the Iraqi government and local authorities to end the illegal embargo on the Makhmur Refugee Camp, allow aid to reach the camp, and guarantee the safety of the camp’s residents.

* We call on the UN to immediately ensure that the embargo on the Makhmur Camp is lifted, and that the Makhmur Camp has access to food supplies and medical care.

* We call for an end to Turkish military aggression against the Makhmur Camp. If Turkey is allowed to act with impunity, it will continue targeting the residents of the Makhmur Camp, resulting in more death and destruction.

* The government of Iraq must take responsibility for crimes committed against civilians living within Iraq’s borders, who have now been targeted by military airstrikes using Iraqi airspace. We therefore call on the government of Iraq to act against this violation of its national sovereignty.

* We call on the international community, the defenders of human rights, and global civil society to react against the illegal and deadly acts of Turkish military aggression against the Makhmur Camp. Refugees are supposed to be a protected vulnerable population, not target practice for an invading force’s bombing campaigns.

7. A Brief Overview of the Makhmur Refugee Camp

Makhmur (Makhmur) is a town 60 kilometres (40 miles) south-west of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The Makhmur Refugee Camp, located in Makhmur, 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 Makhmur predominantly originate from areas in the provinces of Şırnak, Hakkari, 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, the Turkish state pursued a brutal campaign of aggression against the Kurdish people, denying their existence, 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 Makhmur, 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 Makhmur – 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 Makhmur where it was able to flourish.

Since its founding, the population of the Makhmur camp has grown to over 13,000 residents, with many children of camp residents being born stateless.

8. Building a Life in the Makhmur Refugee Camp

Approximately 9,500 refugees arrived in Makhmur 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 organizations within the camp, and the camp’s residents boast that the Makhmur camp provides a progressive model for women’s rights that the rest of the region should follow.

However, life was never easy in Makhmur. Food and water were delivered from outside. Food is prone to spoilage during the hot 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. As such, 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.

Consequently, it is the international community’s responsibility to protect this vulnerable stateless population. And they should not be subjected to Turkey’s indiscriminate bombings which kill their civilians and further traumatize their children.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact:
Kurdistan National Congress (KNK)
E-Mail: kongrakurdistan@gmail.com
Tel:+32 2 647 30 84
www.kongrakurdistan.eu