The En­ter­pris­ing Spirit in Domiz

The Kurdish Globe - - NATIONAL -

As the con­flict in Syria es­ca­lates, an in­creas­ing num­ber of Syr­i­ans have crossed the Iraqi bor­der. In April 2012, ap­prox­i­mately a hun­dred peo­ple came through each day, but that num­ber has es­ca­lated closer to seven hun­dred to­day. Domiz Refugee Camp, the largest in Iraq, con­tin­ues to grap­ple with pro­vid­ing shel­ter and sus­te­nance for forty to sev­enty thou­sand in­hab­i­tants, de­pend­ing on var­i­ous es­ti­mates.

While the hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues loom large, the con­cen­tra­tion of peo­ple and the lack of ser­vices within the crammed tent city pro­vides great po­ten­tial for the en­trepreneuri­ally minded. Some res­i­dents have be­gun busi­nesses of­fer­ing goods and ser­vices in or­der to be eco­nom­i­cally self-re­liant.

With UNCHR and other IGOs over­whelmed by lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges, many of the camp in­hab­i­tants’ eco­nomic wants have gone un­ful­filled. In true en­ter­pris­ing spirit, oc­cu­pants have cap­i­tal­ized on th­ese needs. One such en­tre­pre­neur sits un­der­neath an um­brella near the main gate of the camp. The old man waits for new­com­ers to leave the UNHCR of­fices so that he can pro­vide lam­i­nat­ing ser­vices. He charges one thou­sand Iraqi Di­nars (roughly .86 cents) to pro­tect newly printed asy­lum-seeker doc­u­ments.

As one con­tin­ues down the main road bi­sect­ing the camp, mer­chants sell ev­ery­thing from cig­a­rettes to stuffed an­i­mals. A group of men hud­dle around one stall to find the ap­pro­pri­ate adapter for their new satel­lite dish to be in­stalled out­side of their tent. The city of Duhok is a mere twen­tyminute ride from the camp, so some hawk­ers will even take or­ders for spe­cific prod­ucts.

On the left side of the road, Kur­dis­tan Café sells falafel and shawarma in true Syr­ian style, grilling the sand­wich with chicken fat. The restau­rant has been such a suc­cess that the owner has ex­panded the ad­ja­cent build­ing into a bak­ery. He saved enough from the prof­its to move his fam­ily out of the camp and into an apart­ment in Duhok.

With such suc­cess sto­ries, the Kur­dish Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG) and IGO’s lack of sup­port and ad­vis­ing for busi­ness ini­tia­tives seems sur­pris­ing. Why would they not want more of the camp’s in­hab­i­tants to be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent? Such in­cen­tives could ease pres­sures faced at Domiz, and an ad­vi­sory coun­cil could help match jobs with avail­able la­bor through­out the re­gion.

Mi­cro en­ter­prise boards can pro­vide ben­e­fi­cia­ries short-term loans for small busi­ness ini­tia­tives. Mi­cro fi­nanc­ing has been suc­cess­ful in refugee camps from Guinea to Colombia. In­come gen­er­at­ing ser­vices not only pro­vide refugees with cap­i­tal, but can also have a pos­i­tive so­cial im­pact within the camp.

The short an­swer for why this is not hap­pen­ing is the is­sue of per­ma­nence. In­trare­gional refugees have his­tor­i­cally cre­ated prob­lems for the host coun­tries; such as the in­sta­bil­ity brought on by Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in Le­banon. Some fear Syr­ian Kurds could in­sti­gate sim­i­lar con­flict in Iraq spilling the Syr­ian cri­sis across the bor­der as has al­ready hap­pened in Le­banon and Jor­dan.

Still, the Kur­dish Re­gional Gov­ern­ment presents it­self as the pro­tec­tor of all Kurds so it can­not be seen turn­ing away Syr­ian Kurds at the bor­der. Fur­ther­more, the Iraqi Kur­dish Re­gion faces pop­u­la­tion is­sues and an in­flux of Syr­ian Kurds would pro­vide a pop­ula- tion in­crease and strengthen the Kur­dish Demo­cratic Party’s po­lit­i­cal base. The KRG has made it eas­ier for refugees to move around the re­gion through the is­su­ing of res­i­dency cards. Many refugees are re­luc­tant to search for jobs or un­dergo busi­ness ven­tures be­cause they hope to re­turn to Syria. With this men­tal­ity, the refugees will cause more of a drain on the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment pro­grams. In­stead, ac­tive en­cour­age­ment from the gov­ern­ment can find em­ploy­ment for the refugees and tap into this skilled la- bor force.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions in­volved in mi­cro fi­nance or con­sult­ing need to reach out to res­i­dents within Domiz. A lo­cal mu­si­cian plays the stringed re­bab as the dusk ap­proaches the camp. He car­ried his in­stru­ments from Syria and wants to find a per­for­mance space nearby. Al­though the peo­ple here have been bruised and scarred, the hope­ful signs of busi­ness within the camp prove that their en­ter­pris­ing spirit burns on.

Chil­dren are play­ing at the Syr­ian refugees’ Domiz Camp in Duhok city

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