In Pictures: Iraq's displaced seek safe haven - Al Jazeera English

In Pictures: Iraq's displaced seek safe haven

Tens of thousands of families are stuck at checkpoints and refugee camps outside Iraq's Kurdish region.

Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin | | Humanitarian crises, War & Conflict, Iraq, Middle East, Refugees

Kirkuk and Kalak, Iraq - Iraq's Kurdish region has so far maintained its status as a relative bastion of stability in a region increasingly steeped in political chaos and sectarian violence. The region’s security has made it a magnet for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who continue to flee the ongoing violence between tribal fighters and the Iraqi government.

Long marginalised, Iraq's Kurdish region is now a growing economic power with geopolitical leverage - it controls the oil-rich town of Kirkuk, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is actively taking steps towards holding a referendum on independence.

In Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, some NGOs complain that the government is doing everything in its power to keep displaced Iraqis quarantined in camps far outside KRG-controlled territory.

Only one refugee camp near the northern city of Dohuk is currently hosting internally displaced families, while two others - one northwest of Dohuk and the other near the Syrian border - are in areas outside the reach of the United Nations. "Neither UNICEF nor the UN refugee agency [UNHCR], have been able to assess the camps and approve [the roll-out] for tenting and WASH [water, sanitation, and hygiene] infrastructure," said one NGO worker in the area, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

The checkpoint near the Kurdish town of Kalak is one such entry point and nearby, the Kurdish government has erected a temporary camp called Khazer. Perched at the top of a dusty knoll amid arid plains, the camp becomes an oven under the desert sun. Many Iraqis staying at Khazer have spent all their money to get there. Unable to cross the checkpoint to buy food or water in the nearby town of Kalak, many complain of appalling living conditions in the camp.

"I don’t know what’s happening," says Yunnus of his confusion with the registration process for entering the Kurdish region and why he's been forced to stay at Khazer. He, along with his family, fled the eastern city of Tel Afar amid growing fears they were going to be targeted for violence before arriving at the checkpoint.

Even with the proper Iraqi IDs and documents, he says his family have been repeatedly refused entry. "We are like dogs for two days," he hoarsely whispers inside his sweltering tent. "Nobody has helped us with anything. This is [inhumane]."

Major Namiq, the head Peshmerga officer at the checkpoint, insists there are no restrictions on who is allowed past the checkpoint and into the Kurdish region. "We allow everyone in," Namiq insists, speaking in his office next to the checkpoint. "We simply let them enter in very small groups so we can control them."

When asked why the checkpoint has been closed, and why so many people complain of being turned away multiple days in a row, he said: "We already have too many refugees. We need to be able to control them and right now we cannot control them. We allow everyone in."

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