ISIL forces Iraq’s Palestinians to flee again

Having no other choice but to be on the move, Palestinian refugees feel like there is no end to the constant upheaval.

Documents Palestinian refugee
The Palestinian families at Baharka have all been displaced several times, some even twice within the last year [photo: Abed al-Qaisi]

Baharka Camp  Hudda Awad, 49, was born in a refugee camp. Today, under the weathered tarp of the fifth tent she’s called home, she says she is sure she will die in one.

“Most of my life I’ve lived in the camps,” Awad tells Al Jazeera. “From when I was born in a Palestinian refugee camp up to now – all of my children were born in the camps.”

Awad and her family have led a hard life. Awad has spent a total of 33 years in different refugee camps across the Middle East.

Fleeing from Haifa during the Palestinian Nakba in 1948, her parents took shelter in Tulkarm refugee camp in the West Bank, where she was born in 1966. Five decades later, Awad speaks to Al Jazeera under the soft thud of rain hitting the plastic sheets of yet another tent, this time at Baharka Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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Baharka Camp currently houses 1,120 internally displaced families who have fled the recent fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and coalition forces. While the camp was created for Iraqi IDPs, 18 Palestinian families also reside in Baharka Camp under refugee status.

The camp is lined row after row with weather-battered tents. Clothes hang above open sewer canals that snake between quarters, attempting to dry in the cloudy weather. The ground is saturated – large pools of stagnant water are constantly pumped away from the living spaces in the camp as more rain beats down, leaving everything covered in a thick layer of mud.

The Palestinians at the camp try to stick together, Awad says, pointing out the tents of the other Palestinian families who live nearby.

Palestinian refugees desperate to flee Syria

“We [the Palestinians] here are professional refugees,” Awad continues with a wry smile, to the laughter of her son and daughter who sit beside her on the well-kept mats that line the inside of her UNHCR tent.

“We are teaching [the Iraqis] here how to make their rooms, how to make a kitchen area in the tents, even a living room,” Awad says. “We teach them how to make their tents weatherproof, how to secure against the rain. I’m a professional, I’ve lived my whole life as a professional refugee.”

The Palestinian families at Baharka have all been displaced several times, some twice within the last year, having fled to Khazir IDP camp in the summer when ISIL took Mosul, before fleeing again a couple of months later to Baharka when ISIL also turned Khazir into a battlefield.

Khadra Ibrahim, who lives a few tents down from Awad, was one of the many who fled Khazir during ISIL’s advance. While Ibrahim was also born in a refugee camp, it’s been nearly four decades since she left Khan al-Shieh camp in Syria as a 23-year-old newlywed.


by ”Hudda

here are professional refugees. We are teaching [the Iraqis] here how to make their rooms, how to make a kitchen area in the tents, even a living room…”]

“I never thought I would be living in a camp again,” Ibrahim says. “When I left Syria I thought for sure I was leaving that life behind for good. I should have known better, I am a Palestinian refugee – I have no country.”

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According to Nazmi Hazouri, the consul general for Palestine in Iraqi Kurdistan, this constant upheaval of Palestinian refugees in Iraq has become the norm.

“They always have to move according to their situation, and now [because of ISIL] we have a completely new situation for them. Baharka camp is not for Palestinians, it’s for Iraqis IDPs, but there are 18 Palestinian families there now.”

As one of the 85 individuals that make up those 18 families, Awad is all too aware of how she and her fellow Palestinian refugees must always adapt – after a lifetime of fleeing, she can no longer imagine an end to the upheaval.

“If I’m honest, I feel like this is going to continue forever,” she tells Al Jazeera. “For us, living in camps will go on and on. We have nothing.”

Navigating the muddy path behind Awad’s tent, Ahmad Mohammed Adiyab paces around the Palestinian section of the camp sporting a UNICEF branded beige vest. Adiyab is on temporary employment with UNICEF, where he makes $15 a day teaching children how to eat healthy and keep fit. The job is a luxury for a Palestinian refugee in Iraq, he says.

Adiyab’s family originally hail from Acre, but since 1948 they have been displaced several times, passing through Lebanon, Kuwait, and eventually Iraq.

“Now I’m here after ISIL tried to kill me. They shot up my car in Anbar when they started taking over the area,” Adiyab tells Al Jazeera, pausing to flip through photos of the bullet-ridden car he says was attacked by ISIL fighters.

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Adiyab worked as a mechanic in Anbar province for seven years, where he scraped the money together to rent a house and live independently during his time there. When ISIL took the area however, he was forced to flee yet again.

“I like my job here, I like doing humanitarian work, but of course, I would rather just leave,” Adiyab says. “I wish I was not Palestinian. I am sorry if this makes anyone angry or sad. All of my life moving and living in refugee camps is because I’m Palestinian.”

Having no other choice but to live life on the move, passing from camp to camp, Adiyab has decided against marriage and children – inheriting this life would be a curse, he says.

For now his family are his fellow Palestinian refugees, bonded through a longing for their homeland, their constant upheaval and current struggle.

“The feeling of all the Palestinian people here is that we are one family, we look after each other, and we look out for each other,” he says. “We are outside of our country. We need each other.” 

Source: Al Jazeera