DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — The Yazidi refugees who fled massacres at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq are now being forced to vacate their camp in Turkey — in the dead of winter, on short notice.
There was a lot of activity Dec. 30 at the entrance of the Fidanlik refugee camp on the Diyarbakir-Mardin highway. A group of journalists wanted to visit the camp that houses Yazidis, but guards at the gate said visits were prohibited without permission from the governor. Instead of the usual Diyarbakir municipality staff guarding the gate, Al-Monitor saw three uniformed officials of the Disaster and Emergency Affairs Department (AFAD).
Al-Monitor encountered at the entrance a Yazidi man, who said, “We are told to evacuate the camp,” before being dragged back into the camp by officials.
The camp, which had been managed by the Yenisehir municipality of Diyarbakir, has fallen victim to political maneuvering because its just-replaced mayor was from the Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP). The government has been removing elected DBP mayors and replacing them with government-assigned trustees. In Yenisehir, the local district governor was also appointed as the trustee mayor. That move changed the fate of Yazidis in the Fidanlik camp.
The new city administration decided to transfer the Yazidis to other camps run by AFAD. Since then, conditions have worsened in Fidanlik camp.
When camp residents were informed of the decision in early December, they sent representatives to check out other camps. Even though conditions at those locations are better than the Yazidis' current, deteriorating conditions, many residents do not want to leave the place they have called home for more than two years.
Although journalists were not allowed in the camp, Al-Monitor was able to talk with Yazidis who were going out to shop. Halef Smoki, who has lived in the Diyarbakir camp for more than two years with his five-member family, told Al-Monitor the situation there has become miserable since the evacuation order was given.
“They were giving us food and looked after us. Now we are told to leave. They tell us, 'No more meals or water, and soon we will cut your electricity.' Where are we supposed to go with children in the middle of winter? We no longer have a doctor because they took him away. We are left with nothing. We are under government order. We will do what they say. If we can stay, we will."
Kasim Ismail, who was with Smoki waiting for transport to the city, was also upset. He told Al-Monitor, “We are told to evacuate the camp. We don’t know what to do. Where are we supposed to go? We want to stay here. We can’t go back to our homes in Shengal [Sinjar, Iraq] that now lie in rubble. They have to do something for us. Either send us to another country or do something for us here. Nobody is doing anything for us. I don’t know about other camps, but we are used to life here.”
I walked around the perimeter of the camp, which is encircled by barbed wire, and called out to two men inside. Ilyas Ismail Serkani spoke from behind the wire about his unhappy situation, saying, “They told us they are going to cut off our bread, water and electricity. They tell us to get out of here and go to Midyat or Sanliurfa. We want to stay here and they won’t let us.”
Yazidi parliamentarian Feleknas Uca of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) raised the issue in parliament in late December and presented questions for the prime minister to answer later. Some of her questions included: Why is the camp, which houses 1,029 Yazidis, being closed? Where will they go? Will new camps be built for Yazidis, or will they be sharing camps with Syrian refugees? What is the legal justification for this decision?
She also bluntly asked, "What is the purpose of the Yazidis — who have survived for the past 2½ years with the help of the Yenisehir municipality, the people of Diyarbakir and the international civil society after escaping from [IS] genocide — now to be severed from these sources of support and be subjected to prison-like conditions?”
The AFAD officials who have taken over the camp refused to speak to Al-Monitor. Some of those officials who did not allow reporters to enter the camp said they would not force anyone to evacuate the camp. But nobody explained how Yazidis deprived of their basic needs such as food, water and electricity will survive if they stay. Obviously, the Yazidi refugees will have no choice but to move to other camps.
In mid-December, the refugees were told they would have to leave by the beginning of January. On Jan. 1, news came that the evacuation was indeed underway. One camp resident told Al-Monitor by phone that people were packing their belongings. He said on condition of anonymity, “We don’t want to go, but we have no choice. We didn’t leave our land [in Iraq] voluntarily. Now we have to leave this place. [There is] nothing else we can do.”
Yazidis who have left the Fidanlik camp have been relocated to the AFAD-run camp in the town of Midyat in Mardin province.
The Yazidis also fear relocation because of security concerns. They are inaccurately portrayed by some Muslims as pagans who worship the devil. That belief is responsible for the Yazidis being subjected to persecution throughout their history. IS has massacred thousands of Yazidis.
The camp residents were already barely surviving with diminishing assistance from volunteers and municipalities that have their own financial problems. Many sick people couldn’t find medicine. The camp, which once had more than 5,000 residents, was down to 1,250 people in December after some went to Europe and others returned to Iraq. Although those who remained wanted to stay, they seem to have no choice but to move on in search of a new life.