A Nameless Child: Berseve Refugee Camp, Iraq

A Nameless Child: Berseve Refugee Camp, Iraq

Publication info

Jacqueline Dürre

It is cold and rainy, when I arrive in the refugee camp Berseve I, about 20 minutes by car from Zakho in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The water is pouring on the tarps of the tents, the soil is rain-sodden and within minutes my hands are freezing cold. Most of the people who are living here arrived with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they had to leave their homes in Mount Sinjar. More than half of the 2.1 million displaced people in Iraq have fled to the Kurdish Region of Iraq and are in desperate need of water, food, health care and a safe shelter. When tens of thousands of people fled to cities like Zakho, Dohuk and Erbil in the last summer, many initially slept in parks, unfinished buildings or on sidewalks. About half of the displaced people have now found shelter in camps like Berseve I, which opened in November.

On this day, I am meeting Halala*, who lives in a 16 square meter tent with her husband, six children and her mother in law. While we talk, she is lying in her bed. Just a few weeks ago she gave birth to a baby and is still in great pain. “This is the last place I ever wanted to have a baby,” she tells me and points with her finger at the inside of the tent. A plastic tarp separates the cooking pit from the sleeping area. Her family has nothing but a few mattresses and blankets. The newborn, a small boy, has not been given a name yet. “Can you choose a name for him?” his mother asks me. “What did you have in mind?” I ask her back. „Bevar,“ she replies with a sad voice and drops her eyes. “It means ‘homeless’ in our language.” Halala’s family wants to go back. But they do not know when and if at all they will ever be able to.

While Halala talks to me, her children are fluttering. There is not much to do for them in the camp. They do not have toys and the school has not opened yet. Outside the tent, there is not enough space to play. The tents in Berseve I are closely spaced. With around 15,000 people it has reached its capacities. There is more space outside the camp, but parents are afraid something could happen to their children. To keep them busy, they have to help with the housework. They collect firewood and fetch water. Halala and the other women in the camp are very clear about what they would need to change the situation to the better: “We need more toilets, facilities where we can wash ourselves, warm blankets and a safe space for our children to play.” Many people are already suffering from respiratory diseases and scabies. It is simply too cold and crowded. With funding from the German and Luxembourgian department for foreign affairs CARE distributed relief items during the winter; ovens, warm blankets and clothing. Since January, CARE manages the waste disposal in Berseve I with support from the Dutch foreign ministry and provides bins and rubbish bags.

Also, CARE has founded so called “fire committees” and distributes fire-extinguishers. Displaced people and local authorities are working together to improve the fire protection in the camp. CARE, local and international organizations as well as the provincial government of the Kurdish Region of Iraq are working under high pressure to help people in and outside the camps. However, there is simply not enough funding to meet the needs of millions of people who have lost everything.

When I say goodbye to the family and walk back to our car, I look about the camp another time. A camp, which has become home to Halala and her still nameless baby.

It is still raining and there are few people walking on the muddy alleys between the tents. A little boy is crouching down in front of one of the tents. He is wearing plastic sandals and throws little pebble stones on the ground in front of me. For me, he symbolizes how the life has come to a halt for so many people here. They have lost everything; family members, their houses, their jobs, their entire lives. Like this little boy they have to wait; wait for a future they can build for themselves and without the help of others. They are waiting for a life in peace and safety.

*name has been changed.


Berseve 1 is one of the largest camps for displaced persons in northern Iraq, with almost 15,000 people living there.