In a stifling hot office with more flies than oxygen, Rzgar Abed does not hesitate when asked about the biggest challenge in managing the camp for Iraq’s internally displaced people (IDPs). “Space … we’re at 31,000 and that is our capacity. Thirty-one thousand,” said Abed, who works for the Barzani Charity Foundation, whicg oversees a number of camps, populated by Iraqis displaced people fleeing fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in the Kurdish region. That number is set to increase rapidly with an additional 1.5 million people expected to flee when the operation to take back Mosul from ISIL starts in mid-October. As it is, conditions in the Dibaga camp are already cramped – each tent can only hold up to six people.
Families fled from their villages under the control of ISIL, also known as ISIS, and have kept on leaving, even though some of those villages have since been recaptured. Most are only within 10km to 50km of their homes. More than half of the camp’s population are children. They flow through the camps, running between tents and climbing anything they can. Intisar Mohamed Suleiman came here from Makuk with her husband and nine children – between one and 12 years in age. In April, Kurdish and Iraqi forces supported by the US took out ISIL targets near her village with air strikes.
“It was very difficult – we walked five hours to get here,” said Suleiman, 34, who has been at Dibaga for six months. She was part of the last wave of people who headed towards Erbil. “We did not think we would stay long when we came here,” she said, still hopeful that a return would be imminent. While she is anxious to go back, like many here she is unsure of what she has to go back to. “Most people have no idea what we are dealing with here,” said Vian Rasheed, who heads the Erbil Refugee Council which reports to the governor’s office. “They have a few thousand refugees show up in Europe and they start to worry. When fighting broke out in Mosul in 2014, we had 100,000 people show up in one night at checkpoints,” said Rasheed.