The resolute resistance of Kurdish refugees in Makhmour (Mexmûr) Refugee Camp against an ongoing siege by the Iraqi army shows no signs of relenting as it enters its third day. In a worrying turn of events, the Iraqi army reportedly deployed weapons during an attack on the camp on Sunday, resulting in one person sustaining injuries. Iraq has refuted the reports, denying in an official statement that any such assault took place at the camp.
In a move that has raised concerns about the welfare of thousands of Kurdish refugees, the Iraqi army has sealed off all entrances and exits to Makhmour Refugee Camp since 20 May, including access for and to those critically ill.
The army initiated the siege on Makhmour Camp using heavy weaponry and armoured vehicles in an attempt to confine its residents within the barbed wire fencing. The military blockade has rendered the camp completely isolated, preventing anyone from entering or leaving.
Kurdish refugees in the camp believe that the Iraqi government has attacked the camp in response to pressure from the Turkish government because of the critical elections in Turkey. The Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has intensified its crackdown on the Kurds, particularly in the run-up to the national elections.
As the threat of the siege being drawn out looms over Makhmour, the residents have taken decisive action in mounting resistance efforts. In a show of defiance against the actions of the Iraqi army, the people of Makhmour have initiated a tent protest to express their strong opposition. Undeterred by inclement weather, including heavy rain, hundreds of individuals have congregated at the camp’s checkpoint, displaying their unwavering determination to persist in their resistance until the siege is lifted.
With the firm knowledge that their 23-year presence in Makhmour as refugees has done no harm to others, women in the camp have fearlessly obstructed armoured vehicles, forming a human shield as an act of defiance.
“All states are unfair to us, they know well that we came here as migrants… We are already in an open prison, what do they want from us?” an elderly woman from the camp told ANF. “We will never give up, we will resist to the last drop of our blood,” she added.
With over 13,000 Kurdish refugees residing in the camp, this action has severe implications for the already vulnerable population. Among them are numerous individuals, including children, who require urgent medical attention, and the closure of all entry and exit points has effectively cut off their access to essential healthcare services.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) imposed a stringent embargo on the camp in July 2019. Since then, residents of the camp have been denied entry into cities within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and no external aid has been allowed to reach the camp. This embargo imposed by the KDP has resulted in a dire lack of medical treatment for critically ill patients, as a result of which, according to Roj News, several individuals have tragically lost their lives.
The ongoing blockade of the camp by the Iraqi army, coupled with the longstanding KDP embargo, has led to growing concerns about the welfare and safety of the Kurdish refugees. International organisations and human rights advocates have called for immediate intervention to ensure the protection and provision of essential services for the residents of the camp.
Makhmour Refugee Camp is located approximately 60 km southwest of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. The camp, which is recognised by the United Nations, provides shelter to around 12,000 refugees. It was originally established in 1998 to offer a safe haven for Kurds who had fled state violence in Turkey, particularly in the southeast.
Initially, the camp was situated outside the control of the KRG. However, following the US invasion in 2003, the area encompassing the camp fell under the de facto territorial control of the KRG, while remaining outside of its political control as one of the disputed territories.