How Syria's Civil War in Spilling into Iraq

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Well, here's some concrete evidence that the conflict in Syria is having an impact next door in Iraq. Between 800 and 900 Syrian refugees cross the border into northern Iraq each day. Carolyn Miles is president of the humanitarian group Save the Children, and full disclosure, my sister also works for them. This past weekend Carolyn Miles visited the Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq. She says it was clearly overcrowded.

Carolyn Miles: You know, the camp was designed for 10,000 people, there are now 40,000 people in that camp and almost half of them are children under the age of 18. So, raw sewage running through the camp, garbage piling up, many of the new arrivals are living in tents, it's very tough conditions there.

Werman: And so what are all these children doing? I mean, I gather that they don't have any school there.

Miles: Well, they actually do have a school. We went to visit the school there and our colleagues from UNICEF are running the school, but there were many kids waiting to get in to the school who had registered but didn't have a place yet. And younger kids, those who are four, five, who normally would be in preschool if they were in Syria, are not going at all.

Werman: Aside from these masses of kids, what's the range of people you met in this camp, the kinds of work they did, the lives they left behind in Syria?

Miles: One of the families that we first met with when we came into the camp was a family that had gotten there about a year ago. The father was a house painter, and they were actually one of the luckier families. They did have a cinder block, kind of one room shelter that they were living in. They had fled when basically, you know, as the dad told us, there was no electricity, there was no water, there was no house anymore because it had bombed, and then there was no livelihood, and he said we just couldn't stay any more so we had to leave. And they left from north of Damascus, so they had a long trip to get to Domiz. And we're just waiting at this point. They really were wanting to go back, but not able to at this point. And they had two families that were living in this one shelter.

Werman: I imagine a lot of people are in the same situation, just waiting to see when they can go back, and it doesn't look like that's coming anytime soon.

Miles: No, they all talked about they would go back when Assad fell, but no one really had any idea when that would be. One of the families that we met, the mom had had her baby in the camp. She'd actually been able to get to the hospital that was just outside the camp to actually give birth. But she was there with a very young child and was very concerned about the health situation there. But again, when you go from, you know, a camp designed for 10,000 to 40,000 in the space of just a couple months it's very tough to keep up with that.

Werman: So with the camp operating at four times its usual capacity, what's the most pressing need?

Miles: Hygiene, health and hygiene programs there. It was about 95 degrees. This is the early summer.

Werman: Wow.

Miles: This is spring. So, within the next couple months it will be extremely hot, up to 45 or 115 degrees. The threat of things like cholera are very real, so there was a lot of concern. And that really is the health and hygiene situation has got to get fixed.

Werman: Given the conditions, how's morale among the refugees?

Miles: Well, it was actually surprisingly calm. And most of the Syrians there are Kurds, they come from the northern, eastern part of Syria. They were in a place where they felt comfortable because this is the Kurdish area of Iraq. What they talked mostly to us about was, you know, we really need to get more support for basic services. As things came up, like schools, and we were also working there to open a child friendly space in partnership with UNICEF so that particularly the younger kids, but also the kids when they're not in school to have a place to be, a safe place to play, and have some activities. Those are things that were helping but I think the situation's going to get tenser as time goes on.

Werman: Why do you think that?

Miles: I think more people, the heat is certainly not going to help here, the sewage in the streets, all of those things I think are going to make for a pretty tense summer in northern Iraq.

Werman: Carolyn Miles, president of Save the Children. She just returned from the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Domiz has been welcoming thousands of Syrian refugees. Carolyn, thanks for speaking with us.

Miles: Thank you Marco.