BARDARASH, Iraqi Kurdistan Region — Turkey is a leading donor of humanitarian aid. It hosts more refugees than any other country in the world. Its official emergency relief outfit, known as AFAD, has won millions of hearts and minds in disaster spots across the globe. But here at the Bardarash refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, any mention of Turkey prompts fury and disgust. A reporter was cautioned against speaking Turkish. “Hush! Are you crazy? You will be attacked,” warned Botan Salahaddin, the camp’s Iraqi Kurdish manager.
Over 10,000 Syrian Kurds currently sheltering here are victims of Turkey’s ongoing offensive in northern Syria. Nearly half are children. Launched on Oct. 9, Turkey’s “Operation Peace Spring” has displaced at least 200,000 people and left 90 civilians dead, according to the Kurdish Red Crescent operating within Syria.
The crush of refugees has eased since Turkey signed US and Russian-brokered cease-fires that effectively halted Turkish advances. But violations of the cease-fires — mainly by the Turkish side — continue and “People are still coming, unfortunately,” said Salahaddin.
The Barzani Charity Foundation, a local nongovernmental organization founded by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s recently anointed prime minister, Masrour Barzani, runs the camp jointly with the UN refugee agency and provides hot meals, kerosene and blankets to new arrivals.
But a host of problems bedevil Bardarash. There are no doctors after 4 p.m., said Letitzia Gualdoni, a nurse with Medicins Sans Frontieres, which runs a small clinic here. “We are trying to set up a night shift,” she told Al-Monitor, adding, “Mental health is an intense problem.”
“The new danger for these people are wolves and other wild creatures descending from the surrounding mountains in hunt of prey. If we don’t install a proper fence, children will remain at high risk. And potential Daesh infiltrators [among the refugees] are an added menace to the Kurdistan region,” said Salahaddin, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “Not a single government has helped us so far. Not Saudi Arabia, not Qatar, not the United States, not one,” he noted.
“Turkey should pay for everything, compensate everyone. The Turks caused this,” said a fellow relief worker, speaking anonymously because of strict orders to not discuss politics.
“Turkey shattered our lives. We choose to not sully our tongues by pronouncing his name, but Erdogan is a criminal,” said Ibrahim Seydo, a 40-year-old laborer. He landed at the camp in mid-October with his wife and two young children, where they huddle in a pitched tent, a fierce wind blasting through its flaps. They paid smugglers $400 to sneak them across the border.
“We have nothing left, no plans for the future. We are paralyzed.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Turkey’s president and its first leader to open direct peace talks more than a decade ago with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish rebel group known as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Ocalan directed a guerrilla campaign against the Turkish army out of Syria until 1998, initially for Kurdish independence and then for autonomy, until he was evicted then captured in Nairobi in 1999. The group is labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union.