Report: Turkish Invasion of Syria Creates Boom for Human Trafficking into Iraq

Syrian refugees fleeing the Turkish incursion in Northern Syria wait to receive aid from the UNHCR, local Kurdish non-profit, BCF (Barzani Charity Foundation) and other International NGOs as more than 200 arrive at the facility on October 17, 2019 in Dohuk, Iraq. More than 1000 refugees have arrived in Northern …
Byron Smith/Getty Images

Kurdish news service Rudaw on Wednesday reported over a thousand refugees have thus far fled the region of Syria under attack by Turkey and entered the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, creating a booming industry for human smugglers who can get them across the border.

More specifically, Rudaw said getting to the border is the big problem for refugees because “Kurdish forces on the Syrian side are tightly controlling the roads leading to border crossings and not everyone is allowed to pass through their checkpoints.” In other words, Kurds are preventing other Kurds from fleeing across the technically open border between Syria and the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.

This situation has prompted refugees to offer up to a thousand dollars a head to smugglers who know how to get past the Kurdish checkpoints using boats, horses, and grueling treks on foot through mountainous terrain. Those who run afoul of Syrian Kurdish guards are being taken to already-overcrowded refugee camps. According to an aid worker at the Domiz camp, every new arrival since the beginning of the Turkish invasion was someone who “came by smuggling.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said it has documented over a thousand refugees crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan so far. Most of them ended up in yet another camp, this one called Baradash. It was originally constructed to house refugees from the capital of the ISIS “caliphate” in Iraq, Mosul, but was closed years ago and hastily reopened to handle those fleeing the Turkish invasion.

“If I go back Syria will kill me, Turkey will kill me. And Trump left us,” a Syrian Kurdish refugee named Mustafa told Rudaw.

“I don’t trust Europe, America, France. I don’t believe anyone. Democracy is for money. It’s a business; not for peace,” he added.

NBC News on Thursday reported “a sense of outrage at the American troops they say abandoned them” from the Baradash refugee camp, while also confirming that the major obstacle facing those who wish to flee Syria is Kurdish military units. According to NBC News:

“America has betrayed the Kurds,” said Rania, 20, from Qamishli, a city along the Turkish border that took heavy Turkish artillery shelling during the early days of the incursion last week. “We worked hand in hand, but no longer. Now there is no future for Syria.”

[…] “America has left us and all these things happened,” said Omar Boby Ossy, an elderly man who traveled for four days with his family from the northern Syrian city of Ras al Ain.

Ossy said he spent several days on the border negotiating his crossing with smugglers. Border officials from the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up primarily of Kurdish fighters, have not allowed civilian refugees to cross without the proper paperwork so most make the journey illegally.

“When we arrived at the border with Kurdistan we were allowed to cross,” Ossy said. “We paid money. Five hundred dollars, four hundred dollars for each person.”

The alternative, he said, was to face “tanks, missiles, mortars, jets flying above” in his hometown — a Kurdish city that had remained remarkably peaceful throughout Syria’s eight-year civil war until just this week.

According to NBC, another 622 refugees arrived at Baradash on Thursday. The Baradash camp was originally built to hold 50,000 refugees. Aid workers say many of the buildings will need repairs to accommodate more than the 1,500 or so who have arrived so far.

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