Mohamed is originally from Derek, a town in the Kurdish region in northeast Syria, between the borders with Iraq and Turkey. He later moved to Syria’s capital city, Damascus, to work as a minibus driver. A father of four, his youngest child is not yet walking. Mohamed and his family fled Damascus in 2013 when war broke out in Syria and the city became unsafe.
Like thousands other Syrian Kurds, Mohamed and his family ended up crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan and settling in Domeez Refugee Camp, which currently hosts over 40,000 people. Support to Syrian refugees living in camps like Domeez was drastically cut last summer when, amid funding shortfalls, the value of food vouchers from the World Food Program was slashed from US$31 to just US$10. Every day many families living in the camp prepare to head back into the unknown, leaving the camp and continuing on towards Europe where they hope to find long-term safety and rebuild their lives.
Interview: Mohamed describes his family's flight from Damascus to refugee camp to the migration routes to Europe
“I am not happy to leave, I would rather stay here if I could, close to my parents but really we have no choice,” says Mohamed. “Until August we were getting food vouchers that helped us keep afloat; now that has stopped and we have nothing. This summer I worked for a farmer, a good man I know well. I worked very hard, the farmer is the first one to say that I am the best at driving the tractor. But then he could not sell the harvest and you only get paid once the harvest is sold. So he told me he couldn’t pay me and I know it’s true.
“So how am I to feed my family? I borrowed a lot of money to convert our tent into a proper brick home. I finished doing it up a just few weeks ago. We have not slept in it long enough and we already have to go. And none of us wants to go but it’s just too difficult here.
“Life was good in Damascus. I used to take the children to the park on my days off. They loved that. Since we came to Domeez camp they keep asking me why we don’t go to the park anymore. There are no parks here, only dust everywhere. And yet we would rather stay than go. I worked hard to turn the tent into a house. I need to sell it now, to pay back my debt. There are lots of Syrian Kurds living outside the camp that are willing to pay to move in because here you pay no rent and bills.
“But after I settle my debts there won’t be much left to pay the smugglers, so we will just try our luck, we’ll just go, we’ll follow everybody else. We will travel together with other families, some of them are our relatives — it is too dangerous to move alone. Many people are facing our same problems and are preparing to leave. My relatives are just waiting for me to find someone willing to buy the house.
So how am I to feed my family? None of us wants to go but it’s just too difficult here
“My sister wants her daughter to continue her studies. Her husband left two weeks ago but was stopped and jailed in Hungary. For days we didn’t know where he was; what had happened to him, then finally we got the message that he had been released yesterday after the smuggler bribed a guard.
“People keep in touch with WhatsApp, there always is one family that has a mobile phone and shares it with others. When we left Syria we brought very little with us, but now I will only take a memory stick with the photos. What memories do you want me to have after living in a tent for years?
“We have fled too many times and my parents now refuse to move again. I worry about leaving them behind. I really don’t want to go and fear for my family. Even when we get to Turkey if I hear there is work here we’ll come back.”
Mehiar, Mohamed's 12-year-old son, with his young brother Peyman. Mehiar says he wants to go to Europe but he worries about leaving his grandparents behind.
A street in Domeez refugee camp.