Makhmur refugees reject takeover of camp by Iraqi army

Refugees in Makhmur camp protest against the movement of the Iraqi army to take over the security of the camp, Nineveh, May 2023. KirkukNow

By Ammar Aziz in Ninewa

Refugees in Makhmur camp of Ninewa province reject for the Iraqi army to take over the security of the camp and its surroundings, on the grounds that "the federal government wants to turn our camp into a prison.”

A unit of the Iraqi army has been approaching the Makhmur refugee camp for two weeks to take over the security of the camp, but the residents refuse their interference in the camp management and security.

"The Iraqi government wants to turn Makhmur camp into a prison in cooperation with Turkey," Nechirvan Mahmoud, a refugee living in the camp, told KirkukNow.

The Iraqi forces belong to the 14th Army Division and are part of the Nineveh Operations Command.

"The Iraqi government continues to blockade the Makhmur camp. They want to turn the camp into a prison and close the surrounding area. They have this intention for a long time,” Mahmoud, 20, added.

At the beginning of the army's movement towards the camp, the refugees protested and caused tension.

The camp, located in the Makhmur district of Nineveh province, 60 km southwest of Erbil, is home to at least 12,000 Kurds from Turkey who fled their home towns in the past century due to military operations by the Turkish army. The camp is officially registered and supervised by the Iraqi government and the United Nations.

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Refugees in Makhmur camp protest against the Iraqi army besiege, Nineveh, May 2023. KirkukNow

“There was a very severe blockade in the first two or three days, they did not even allow people to move, but then we contacted the army and agreed not to restrict movement of refugees,” Bewar Amin, spokesman for the Makhmur camp administration, told KirkukNow.

He said the army was not near the camp before and now they are only 800 meters away in some places.

KirkukNow tried to get information from the Iraqi army more than once, but to no avail.

On May 21, the security media cell denied that the army had attacked the refugees in Makhmur camp, without naming Turkey, stressing that "we will not allow Iraq to become a scene of attacks on neighboring countries or hostile acts that damage Iraq's regional relations.”

For the first two or three days there was a very large and severe siege

According to the statement, the army's efforts are "for the safety of the residents of the camp" and called for coordination from the administration of the camp.

For the first two or three days there was a very large and severe siege

"We are not against the Iraqi army and we want them to protect us, but if they are right and care about us, let them stop the bombing of the camp first," he said.

Turkish aircraft have bombed the camp several times on the grounds of the presence of fighters for Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which fights Turkey since 1980s and holds territories north of Iraq.

"We don't know the reason for the siege of Makhmur camp, we don't know whether the siege remains or not... The army came with a military order and I cannot say how long they will stay there," Makhmur district commissioner Rizgar Mohammed told KirkukNow.

The security of Makhmur camp is in the hands of an armed force called the Essential Defense Forces of Makhmur camp, which are considered close to the PKK.

“The siege on Makhmur camp continues and the Iraqi army wants to enter the camp and take complete control of the camp, but the residents of the camp have set up four tents in front of the camp to protest,” said Ghurbat Ibrahim, a woman activist and member of a group close to the PKK.

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Makhmur Refugee camp in Makhmur district, Nineveh. Human Rights Watch HRW

A delegation of representatives of the Makhmur camp has gone to Baghdad to resolve the security problems in the camp.

"The delegation has not reached any agreement. We have been living in the camp for 30 years and we have never had any problems with the Iraqi government and we are not against the army, but we do not want to control the camp,” Ibrahim added.

Makhmur is a disputed area located southeast of Mosul, administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) since 2003, but since October 2017, the security and administrative issues are under the control of the Iraqi government.

Mahmoud, a refugee in Makhmur camp, said they are suffering not only from security issues, but also from lack of services.

"These problems last for the last four years, and Turkey pushes to upside down this place but fortunately, the people are resisting and this time we will succeed in responding to the Iraqi government."

No families in the Makhmur camp have received their monthly food rations for five years which has been irregularly provided by Iraqi ministry of migration and the displaced, according to the spokesman of the camp administration.

In recent years, the refugees in the camp in Makhmur district have been under a severe siege by the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG for several months, as Human Rights Watch reported.

The commissioner of Makhmur said there are water and electricity problems in the whole district, not just the camps. “The district budget has included a section for the camp residents, especially for basic services of all are provided yet still there are problems because the budget is not enough,” said Rizgar Mohammed.

Makhmur district, 60 kilometers southwest of Erbil yet under control of Iraqi federal government, consists of three sub-districts and 40 villages yet only four villages are currently inhabited, figures from local administrations show.

The Mountains of Qarachukh, adjacent to Makhmur, are located in the triangle of Erbil-Ninawa-Kirkuk, an area swept tens of times by military operation by the Iraqi and KRG forces yet failed to eliminate the hideouts for the remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ISIS.

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