How One Kurdish Village Took in Scores of Iraqi Refugees

Bahari Taza is a small community with a huge heart—and a determined leader

How One Kurdish Village Took in Scores of Iraqi Refugees How One Kurdish Village Took in Scores of Iraqi Refugees
Adnan Mohammed Ali is a member of the Kurdish Kakaye tribe … and a man of influence. He’s the mukhtar—secular leader—of Bahari Taza, a small... How One Kurdish Village Took in Scores of Iraqi Refugees

Adnan Mohammed Ali is a member of the Kurdish Kakaye tribe … and a man of influence. He’s the mukhtar—secular leader—of Bahari Taza, a small Kurdish village near the Iraqi town of Khanaqin.

And to hundreds of refuge families, Ali is a hero.

Bahari Taza is 20 minutes by road from the front lines of Iraq’s current war. Kurdish peshmerga militia have been fighting a series of skirmishes with militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria just outside Khanaqin.

The war has forced tens of thousands of Iraqis to flee north. No fewer than 600 families have sought refuge in Bahari Taza and Khanaqin. Ali has made it his personal mission to provide for their care—and has urged his people to do the same.

He’s uniquely qualified to help. He heads the local NGO known simply as Peace. His high position gives him easy access to Khanaqin’s wealthiest families. He has international contacts.

Adnan Mohammed Ali stands in the doorway of his house next to the refugee camp in Bahari Taza. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Ali’s been tirelessly working his connections, asking wealthy citizens and fellow Kakaye tribespeople to help him pay for Bahari Taza’s refugee camp. He’s dipped into his own savings.

All told, the small camp is spending two million Iraqi dinars—around $1,700—every day just for meals for the refugees. To keep down costs, locals volunteer their time delivering and preparing food.

The U.N. has managed to supply some food, but not the means to cook it. They’ve had more luck providing tents and other logistics. Even so, many of the refugees currently live in a hodgepodge of small tents, unused storage facilities and incomplete construction sites. Or their cars.

The Red Cross has donated water tanks and some food but, like the U.N., no means of cooking it. Though their assistance has been vital, Ali says he expects more from the international NGOs. Their performance, he says, leaves much to be desired.

Refugee children get water from a Red Cross water tank. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Ali adds that money alone won’t solve the Bahari Taza’s refugee problem. His biggest concern right now is health and medical care. The refugees need professional medical assistance, the mukhtar says.

Some doctors have visited from Khanaqin. But they came with just one ambulance and stayed for only two hours. That to tend to 600 families.

Bahari Taza camp is a microcosm of Iraq. Sunnis and Shias and Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen live in close quarters.

Salh Madi is a Sunni Turkmen from the town of Jalawla. The 37-year-old says he fled with his wife and their three children after fighting broke out between the peshmerga and ISIS forces in their town. They had time to pack only the bare essentials.

Madi is not shy in describing his hatred for ISIS.

Five-year-old Aya Madi and one-year-old Bilal Madi sleep in the shade of a storage facility. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Madi’s one-year-old son Bilal has been suffering from extreme heat rash since arriving in Bahari Taza. Madi got some medicine from Khanaqin hospital but it soon ran out. Getting more has proved difficult.

Even so, Madi says he feels fortunate to be in Bahari Taza instead of Jalawla. Even if medicine and supplies are scarce, at least he knows his children are safe, he says.

Ali Farthal Rahim, a 40-year-old construction worker, is a Sunni Arab from Sharaban. Rahim says Sharaban was a diverse town, home to Sunni and Shia Arabs and a sizable number of Kurds and Turkmen. Shia militia attacks forced Rahim and his family—wife, six kids and a daughter-in-law—to flee on June 16.

His daughter-in-law is a recent addition to the family, having married his son only three days before the family fled. They went to Kirkuk first but authorities said they couldn’t stay. Ali Farthal Rahim is pictured below.

They heard about the camp in Bahari Taza. It wasn’t an easy trip. Though a Sunni, Rahim hoped to avoid ISIS lines, so couldn’t take the direct route to Bahari Taza.

Rahim says he would like to relocate farther into Kurdish-controlled territory. But to do so, they require a Kurdish sponsor.

Bahari Taza is not the worst place they could have landed. He says that the locals have treated his family well.

“We did what we have to do, we did [the only thing] we could do,” mukhtar Ali explains when asked why his people have taken in so many people. Ali and the people of Bahari Taza and NGOs are doing their best to find space for the displaced, but Ali knows it is only a matter of time before they run out of space for them.

The U.N. and the Red Cross are scrambling to build more camps near Khanaqin to meet the huge demand for shelter.

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