With his wife, her parents, and the couple’s four children—ages 11 months, 2 years, 5, and 7—they walked overnight then hired a car to the Iraqi border to arrive at Bardarash, a refugee camp north of Mosul. Suliman said he had to pay $250 a person to get across at an illegal border crossing to Iraq.
Like many at Bardarash, they arrived with only the clothes on their backs, dazed and traumatized by the sudden turn of events in what had been one of the most stable parts of war-torn Syria.
Suliman choked up to stop the emotion as he described the last days in his city. “I do not want my children to ever see the things I saw.”
Last week Suliman learned the ambulance driver he worked with had been shot in the face and killed in Ras al-Ayn. He showed me the photo and message he received.
Bardarash is a vibrating testament to human suffering from Turkey’s invasion of Syria, with new arrivals joining families who have been here for weeks.
“One month ago there were zero people here,” said Bryan Babcock, disaster assistance team leader with Samaritan’s Purse. “We thought it would take months to fill this camp, but it took only weeks. We thought there would be a hundred people a day, but there were 1,500.”
With a camp population currently at 12,000 people, Bardarash is a family camp of Syrian Arabs and Kurds, most of them fleeing from towns along the front lines of the invasion like Ras al-Ayn (also called Sari Kani in Kurdish), about 200-300 miles away from Iraq’s open plains. The camp housed Syrians once before, starting in 2013, when they were forced to flee ISIS takeovers. With ISIS dislodged from territory in Syria and Iraq, it gradually emptied.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), along with the Iraq-based Barzani Charity Foundation, reopened the camp. European charities refurnished a medical clinic and other services. Samaritan’s Purse, which is taking over staffing medical needs in the camp, rebuilt 525 latrines also, said Babcock.
For many families here, running from their homes was a rerun. Towns across northern Syria confronted ISIS threats in 2013, emptying at that time. Suliman took his family then to live in the Syrian city of Hasakah with relatives, returning to Ras al-Ayn a year later. This time he said his wife insisted they get out of Syria. “The Syrian people don’t deserve what is happening to them now. Why is it my fault to be living in my house in Syria when the Turkish army decides to come?”