Refugees fleeing Turkey’s north east Syria operation say they can’t go back – NRC survey

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The majority of refugees fleeing from Turkey’s military operation in north east Syria say they won’t return to their country, and plan on settling in Iraq.

A survey conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council in Bardarash Camp in northern Iraq, where the majority of refugees are hosted, found that 95 per cent of them say they don’t think they will return and plan to remain in Iraq. They cite ongoing fighting and uncertainty as the main reason not to return, at 69 per cent, while 17 per cent of them say they have no home to return to after it was destroyed or occupied.

Another 10 per cent cite fear of retribution from Turkish and Syrian army forces, as well as being afraid they or a close relative will be conscripted in the Kurdish YPG forces or the Syrian army.

“Turkey’s military operation has scarred the lives of tens of thousands of Syrian families,” said NRC’s Middle East Regional Director Carsten Hansen. “The families tell us terrible stories of both the violence and the difficulties in trying to escape to safety. They need to be offered protection for the long term – whether in Iraq or in the areas they fled from.”

Sorya Ahmed, a 55-year-old refugee told NRC: “Where would I go if I had to go back? My house was burnt down, and the original people of my area have left. Even if I had to eat soil here in the camp I would never go back to Syria.”

The research presented in NRC’s new report ‘Desperate Measures’ today confirms the widespread fear, suffering and desperation engulfing the north eastern region of Syria since Turkey started its military operation on 9 October, following the announced pull-out of U.S. forces. It has forced more than 17,900 Syrians to flee into Iraq and over 220,000 to be displaced internally. While about  half of the internally displaced have returned to their homes, relatives seeking refuge in Iraq say they lack most services and are fearful of what happens next.

Refugees told NRC of harrowing journeys, fleeing shelling and troop advances, being forced to take long walks across the hilly border in the cold at night, with most of them forced to pay hundreds of dollars to smugglers to avoid being sent back on the Syrian side. Family members have been separated in these difficult journeys, while 90 per cent of the refugees interviewed said they had to leave relatives behind, mostly because they could not afford the smuggling fees or because they were too frail to travel.

Many Syrians NRC spoke to are relieved that they managed to reach safety but show growing signs of despair about life in the camp. More than 40 per cent of respondents report that their inability to leave the camp premises is their primary concern.

Inside Syria, displaced civilians told NRC that many areas are still without water and electricity and that their neighbourhoods are gripped by the reigning uncertainty and the fighting.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • The Government of Turkey should take all possible measures to protect civilians and ensure that they have access to humanitarian assistance in north east Syria.
  • The Autonomous Self-Administration of North and East Syria should revisit its policy on departure from the region to allow safe passage to the KRI. This includes simplifying exit procedures which allow Syrians to seek asylum without incurring added personal safety risks.
  • The Kurdish Regional Government should speed up measures to improve Syrian refugees’ freedom of movement in the KRI, including the option to apply for residency permits from within the new camps;
  • All parties to the conflict should ensure that refugees and IDPs alike are able to access the full range of durable solutions, including return if they wish to do so.

 Notes to editors:

  • The survey was conducted as part of a rapid needs assessment in Bardarash Camp in Dohuk, Iraq, on 26 and 27 November. NRC surveyed 208 families in the camp and did 15 long interviews with families in both Iraq and Syria.
  • 41 per cent of respondents cited their inability to leave the camp as their primary concern, followed by 27 per cent who said they were concerned by the distribution of food in the camp, and 21 per cent concerned about heating.
  • The full NRC report Desperate Measures can be downloaded from the link.
  • Photos with case studies and B-roll for free use and distribution can be downloaded from the links.
  • NRC has spokespeople available for interviews in Iraq and in the region.
Press contacts: Phone number:
Karl Schembri, Media Adviser in the Middle East, +962 790220159

Karl Schembri

Regional Media Adviser in the Middle East

Mobile +962 (0) 7902 20159


Skype: karl.schembri

Twitter: @Karl_Schembri