In pictures: Fire tears through Yazidi displacement camp in Iraq
Thousands of Iraq’s Yazidi community have been left homeless and with further trauma after a fire broke out in the Sharya camp, in Iraq’s Duhok province. Although the cause of the fire is still being investigated, some say it could be due to the rise in temperatures or short circuiting electricals, which are common.
The Sharya camp, which opened in 2014, had become a place of refuge for many people from the Yazidi community, who managed to escape persecution from the Islamic State group.
The fire, which broke out around midday on Friday, razed around 400 tents, and forced over 200 families to relocate to schools and surrounding areas. No deaths have been recorded as yet, although dozens of injuries were sustained by the camp's residents.
Eyewitnesses said that the fire resurfaced trauma for survivors in the camp. Kuri Hamo, 45, who has lived in the camp since 2014, said that the fire brought back bad memories.
“The fire reminded us of what happened in 2014 when ISIS occupied Sinjar. At that time, we gathered our identification documents and all of our important personal items and ran away, taking our things with us. Now, we’ve had to do the same and the fear remains in our hearts.” According to Hamo, whose tent was among several damaged by the fire, around 20 to 30 families lost important personal documents to the blaze.
In August 2014, IS launched a targeted campaign of violence against the Yazidis, a religious minority living in northern Iraq’s Sinjar. Those who couldn’t escape the rampage were taken captive or executed, their bodies dumped in mass graves.
Prior to the outbreak of the fire, residents had become accustomed to life in the camps after years of trauma. “Our situation was very good, and the area is safe thanks to the Kurdistan regional government and the aid that we receive,” said Hamo.
“The area now looks black, and reminds us of when ISIS blew up and targeted the areas we were living in,” she added.
Residents of the camp also told Middle East Eye that they were only able to narrowly escape the fire, and that if it had happened during the night, the consequences would have been far greater. Khalaf Murad Abbas, a resident of the camp who suffered burns to his body, said that he frantically rushed to help his family.
“Our tent was far from the fire, but when I heard about it, I ran to help my family and people there. Unfortunately, an oil barrel next to me exploded, causing burns to my feet, left hand and neck.”
Muhannad Haider Kharmash, a 19 year-old who lived in the camp and suffered from minor burns to his feet, told Middle East Eye that the fire destroyed his possessions and future ambitions. “I worked daily selling vegetables for months, earning around five dollars a day, to be able to afford a camera and fulfil my aspiration of becoming a photographer, but the fire has taken away my camera and my dreams.”
A number of charitable organisations and NGOs have gathered to clean up the camp and provide support to those impacted.