This morning I got into Bardarash refugee camp. It was established less than two months ago to provide a place of safety for refugees fleeing Turkey’s bombardment and invasion of North East Syria.
In a desolate location, it is home – if that is a word that can accurately be used – to 2,520 families – some 9,894 individuals with more arrivals expected. Tents and makeshift shelters have replaced homes bombed by Turkish (NATO) planes and people who once supported themselves and their children queue up for rations, handouts, and medical help.
As always there are handfuls of dedicated volunteers and aid workers trying to apply poultices and bandages to keep people going. But, these people should never have had to become refugees in the first place, and until we address the fundamental causes, and get angry with those who are responsible, the numbers and attendant suffering and heartbreak will increase exponentially.
And just think about the numbers. On World Refugee Day, 2019, a staggering and unprecedented 70.8 million people had been forcibly displaced. From Cox’s Bazaar – and the Rohingya – to the Libyan Coast – and a tidal wave of Eritreans, Nigerians, Sudanese, Iranians , and Syrians, some 37,000 people are forced to flee their homes every single day. This is overwhelming due to man made conflict or persecution.
17 years is the average length of time spent in a camp by a fleeing refugee.
My first visit to a refugee camp was in Beirut in 1981. Shatila and Sharbra camps had been established for Palestinian refugees in 1948.
A year after my visit the camps were the scene of a horrific massacre.
In Dadaab, Kenya, I saw one of the biggest refugee camps in the world teeming with 211,000 refugees – many from Somalia; and in Sudan and Burma I have spent time in camps where people have taken refuge to escape a crisis and end up staying there for years.
One of my most heartbreaking experiences was hearing from refugees in Darfur about the genocide which had been unleashed upon them. 300,000 died, 2 million were displaced.
The International Criminal Court have inducted Sudan’s now deposed, Omar Al Bashir, for Genocide.
His prosecution should be a warning to other despotic leaders that they too will face a day of reckoning.
I asked Kurdish refugees at Bardarash what message they would send to those who forced them from their homes in Hassaka, Qamishli, Kobane, and Rass Alein.
A mother of four told me that “ the war planes came at 4.00pm. As they dropped their bombs and chemicals many children were burnt. Some were killed. We all started to run. One of my children fell and concussed his skull. We kept running and were eventually offered places in a car. We had to give them $250 to bring us here to safety. I just want to go home with my children- but everything was destroyed and we would be slaughtered.”
She told me that as the season is changing they are becoming very cold and have no heaters.
I asked her what message she would send to Turkey’s President Erdogan:
“I would ask him how he can sleep in his bed knowing that he has made us suffer like this. May God punish him.”
Another Bardarash refugee, Hamid
described how he saw people choking as their homes were burnt: “children were throwing up and we had to leave the injured behind as we fled.”
Hamza, whose wife and mother of their 3 year old daughter- was killed – told me he would like to send a message – to President Trump: “Ask him where is the justice in letting Erdogan force Kurdish families to flee their homes and for them to be given to families from Aleppo,Idlib, or Homs.”
Challenging an illegal invasion and ethnic cleansing, Hamza said “It was Trump who opened the door to the attacks and allowed Erdogan to commit this massacre. And the international community did nothing about it .”
And I talked to Salem Farhim Mohammed- whose family are no strangers to massacres, ethnic cleansing and being forced to flee for their lives. He says “Erdogan thinks he is God.”
From Teltama, and aged 53, Salem has a family of five.
His grandfather was an Armenian who fled from Mardin, a Christian enclave in South East Turkey, which I have visited. He fled when the Armenian Genocide began in 1914.
The Kurds in Teltama provided food and shelter and he settled there.
Two months ago his grandson and great grandchildren were forced from their home “ we were told that we are infidels.”
Their generators, tools and possessions were seized. They fled.
It took ten days of difficult travel to reach Bardarash. They have since learnt that one of his cousins was killed in a mortar attack.
He told me “Mr.Trump says we Kurds are ‘not angels.’ No. But we are human beings.”
A camp doctor told me that many of the refugees – luke Salem and his children – have been deeply traumatised by their experiences.
On leaving Bardarash, I would echo the questions posed by Salem, Hamza, Hamid and the Kurdish mother.
But I have other questions that need answers too.
Perhaps the British and US Governments could tell me what outrage a NATO country has to commit – just what does it have to do to innocent civilians – before we declare it to be unfit for membership?
And when did it become acceptable to break the Geneva Conventions – and potentially the Chemical Weapons Convention – and illegally occupy territory and ethnically cleanse a population, and face no investigation, little censure, no Security Council Resolution, and no consequences?
And as they add to the global refugee crisis can’t they understand that far from offering a solution, refugee camps are perfect recruiting grounds for extemist organisations able to exploit despair and hopelessness.
Bardarash is a symbol of the breakdown of global leadership. It is also a consequence of our betrayal of the Kurds and other minorities of North East Syria. And for the failures and betrayals the occupants of Bardarash are the ones who are paying the price.
Justice For Kurds:
On Thanksgiving, the Washington Post published the list of Advisory Council members with a message of thanks to the Kurds. See –