Security forces for Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have arbitrarily imposed restrictions on movement for most residents of Makhmour refugee camp for Turkish Kurds since mid-July, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The restrictions came after unknown assailants suspected of belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group engaged in a decades-long conflict with Turkey, killed a Turkish diplomat in the nearby city of Erbil on July 17.
KRG security forces, known as Asayish, arrested several suspects and imposed the restrictions, seemingly because of perceived PKK support among some residents. As a result, many camp residents have lost their jobs and had difficulties getting health care.
“Authorities can’t just punish everyone in a camp because some people may be sympathetic to the PKK when there’s no evidence they committed a crime,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These arbitrary restrictions on camp residents are keeping them from reaching jobs and health care.”
The camp, 60 kilometers southwest of Erbil, is home to at least 12,000 ethnic Kurdish Turkish nationals. Most fled southeast Turkey from 1993 to 1994 when the Turkish military forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurds from their villages during the conflict with the PKK.
In 2011, Iraqi authorities and UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, officially registered the site as a refugee camp and Iraqi authorities granted the residents refugee status.
DindarZebari, the KRG’s coordinator for international advocacy, responded on October 30 to a Human Rights Watch inquiry about the situation, writing that KRG authorities “slightly restricted temporarily” the camp residents’ movements because of “security issues.”
He claimed that “the new measures did not include those who have jobs, students, or those seeking treatment in Kurdistan Region hospitals considering that they have approval documents.”
In a subsequent email on November 06, Zebari repeated that “all these precautions are temporary and for protecting the safety of everyone” and said that “approval documents” meant letters from employers or educational institutions confirming the person’s status.
Five residents told Human Rights Watch that they had the requisite documents and permission to leave the camp but that security forces had barred them from passing through the first checkpoint on the road to Erbil and other cities in the Kurdistan Region.
Another resident said he had lost his job as a result and couldn’t get a new job that could provide an employment letter. They said that only students and a few people referred to hospitals had been able to get through. (Source: HRW)