Duhok Province, Kurdistan/Iraq, March 2017. Pass the mountains of Dohuk towards Mosul lake and you will find one of the biggest refugee camps in Iraq. Formerly constructed for 22,000 people Domiz now hosts around 60,000 people (March 2017), mostly from Syria and from within Iraq. What started as a camp out of few tents became a city with its own infrastructure, schools, shopping streets and restaurants, hospitals and a fire department. Houses made of cement blocks are erected next to tents, shawarma and falafel stands are built up right next to shops selling wedding dresses. In the streets you see many children playing football in the dirt. I had the opportunity to have a look at the situation in the camp during a travel through Iraqi Kurdistan. During my short stay in Domiz I focussed on portraying the situation of the many children.
Domiz refugee camp is split up into two camps. One big camp (Domiz 1) built in 2012 and one small camp (Domiz 2). Both camps occupy together about 1,500,000 square meters. Their planned capacity is 36,960 persons (UNHCR camp profiles, May 2016). They currently host about 60,000 refugees (March 2017).
40,000 people were registered in Domiz 1 in April 2016. One third of them (13,265) were children under the age of 11 (UNHCR camp profiles, May 2016). Since then, many more refugees came from Syria and from within Iraq. Mossul is less than 60 kilometers away.
Many of the boys decorate their bikes with coloured tape. As there is not much to do in the quickly erected concrete houses the children try to escape boredom by spending most of their time playing outside on the streets or riding their bikes.
With no proper sewerage system in the camp and temperatures up to 45 degrees in summer outbreaks of diseases are a constant threat. “We usually only vaccinate children up five years of age. But due to the conditions we started to vaccinate refugee children 15 years of age and younger", says Dr. Nezar Ismet Taib, director general of Dohuk’s health directorate.
Wall paintings are popular in the camp. Most of the well-known international humanitarian organizations are present in Domiz. Organizations such as the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) paint walls with images of characters from children’s TV shows.
Making camp life a bit more colourful and educate children at the same time about important issues - the many wall paintings are not only decoration. They teach children about hygiene or keeping their environment free from garbage.
Most of the children play on the streets with toys either bought in the shops or built by themselves. About 55 percent of all children in Domiz 1 were enrolled in schools in May 2016. Extra buildings had to be erected due to overcrowding (UNHCR camp profiles, May 2016).
Due to the massive size of the camp, street signs are supposed to give orientation to the people and make it easier to navigate security forces in case of fire. Camp maps show where people can find the mosque, warehouses or the camp management.
Along the main roads are many shops that sell everything from toys, kitchen utensil to wedding dresses. The smell of the shwarma and falafel places can be found in the streets. People can use their food vouchers where they like. In May 2016 15,386 people received food assistance in vouchers.
Hairdessers advertise haircuts for men and women along the roads. Posters show pictures of western movie stars and famous football players. But not everyone can afford that. Asked where he got his haircut from, the boy on the left answered: “I cut it myself.”
Children in the camp have the opportunity to play football on several pitches. But there is not enough space for everyone. Many children have to play on the streets next to cars and the sewers transporting dirty water above ground.
Roads can be busy in the evenings. Especially the main roads in the camp show big numbers of people going out for a snack or a drink. The camp has developed its own infrastructrual life with places to gather, dance schools and shops. Life in Domiz might be hard most of the time. But people try to make their best of it.