DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — “We are three friends. Altogether we had 800 liras [$274], but we are now down to our last 10 liras," said Ramazan Badur. The taxi driver, who has been waiting on the Iraqi side of the border for 10 days, added, "When that runs out, we will cross the stream secretly and sneak into Turkey.” Badur, speaking to Al-Monitor by phone, said they are tired, dirty and desperate and want to go home in Turkey. Like thousands of others, he was left on the wrong side after Turkey closed the Habur crossing, which is controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government on the Iraqi side.
Although trucks crossing to Iraq are occasionally allowed to cross, thousands of vehicles and their occupants are stranded, not allowed to enter Turkey.
Taxis carrying passengers are waiting in the customs zone and trucks waiting to enter Turkey are waiting outside it. Everyone is desperately trying to hear news from Turkey. A routine has developed. With the first rays of daylight, people get out of their vehicles to stretch their limbs. They have been sleeping in tiny cars for days on end. Then it is time for breakfast. As most have exhausted their own rations, they go to a nearby café for breakfast and to watch TV news. When they hear nothing about their saga, they start discussing other issues. When the night comes, everyone heads back to their cold cars.
The border between Turkey and Iraq is delineated by the Hezil Stream. This is the stream Badur plans to cross illegally. He said he has been out of touch with his family.
“I have been here for 15 days. I took one bath. We stink. There is no food, no money except my last 10 liras. I had 800 liras but we are three people. We are desperate. My brother went home by crossing the stream. Let them open the road so we can go home. When we run out of money, we too will cross the stream.”
Murat Soyler, another taxi driver Al-Monitor reached by phone, said he had brought passengers to Iraq and now wants to go back home. “We have been here for 10 days. Children are hungry at home. Shopkeepers here meet our needs, but our money is finished. We sleep in our cars. Only once I took a cold shower.”
Some say there are 3,000 people waiting; others say 10,000. It is not only the drivers who are stranded. Mural Bilgic, a construction contractor in Iraq, said the border was closed shortly before he got there. He is suffering a double loss: he can’t go to Turkey, and he can’t bring over supplies needed for his construction from Turkey. He told Al-Monitor all his work has ceased, adding, “Because vehicles cannot cross, our supplies can’t come. All our work has stopped. Gas stations offer one meal a day to drivers. … We sleep at the hotel; others sleep in vehicles. We could have returned by plane but we have our vehicles with us. I am losing $1,500 a day. We work with the private sector. We have to fulfill our contracts. Drivers are all in negative, angry moods because they can’t get to their families."
Of Turkey’s exports by road, 42% pass through the Habur crossing. Last year, 1,970,000 vehicles crossed the gate.
The plight of the people stuck at the border was raised in the parliament by opposition Republican People's Party Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrikulu. In the parliamentary query addressed to Prime Minister Davutoglu, Tanrikulu asked several questions:
- What will be the fate of the drivers stranded at the border after the closure of the Habur crossing?
- What is being done for their welfare?
- Have there been any contacts with the Kurdistan Regional Government about the situation of these drivers?
- Has there been any assistance for the basic needs of those people stranded at the border? If not, why?
- Has there been any assistance to arrange for communication between these drivers and their families? If not, why?
- Although these problems were easy to predict, why wasn’t anything been done?
- How many of our citizens were stranded at which border gates because of the closures?