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Makhmour officials accuse UN of collusion with Turkey to shut down Kurdish refugee camp

OFFICIALS in Iraq accused the United Nations of colluding with global forces today in a bid to shut down a Kurdish refugee camp frequently bombed by Turkey.

They condemned the continuing silence by international bodies while residents of the Makhmour camp suffer war crimes and an attempted genocide by the Turkish state.

The camp, situated in one of the areas where control is contested by the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) and the Iraqi federal administration, has come under renewed pressure in recent weeks.

At the start of the month, residents repelled an attempt by Iraqi soldiers to take over the camp, staging a sit-in protest to prevent them surrounding it with wire fences.

Soon afterwards, its official Twitter account was blocked without explanation by UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

Following two weeks of inquiries, an official told the Morning Star that it had unblocked the Makhmour camp account, but no response was provided as to why it was restricted in the first place.

“UNHCR Iraq remains available for and engages with any refugee community we serve, including through social media, as long as the social content is in compliance with community standards and is free of offensive language and spam,” the official said.

Makhmour has been bombed a number of times by Turkey, whose authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has labelled it “an incubator of terrorism” linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

UNHCR officials have repeatedly ignored these missile strikes, despite them causing a number of deaths, and have issued no public condemnation of Turkey’s actions, which amount to war crimes.

In a statement to the Star, a spokesman said: “In line with international law and international humanitarian law, UNHCR condemns any attack on civilians, civilian sites and facilities, including refugee camps and settlements.”

But this, critics say, amounts to tacit support for Turkey’s bombing, which Ankara insists is targeting PKK fighters and not civilians.

Kurdish officials have long accused the UN of colluding with world powers to “clear the camp.”

Makhmour is deemed a threat because it operates on the basis of democratic confederalism, the political ideology of jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, they say.

“Never forget that the UN has been working with the US, Turkey, Iraq and the KRG to send the people of Makhmour refugee camp back to Turkey for decades now, misrepresenting the conditions they would have to return to,” officials told the Star.

A 2006 Wikileaks cable revealed that UNHCR representative Gesche Karrenbrock was working with both US and Turkish officials to repatriate people from Makhmour.

Most of the 12,000 residents of the camp, first established in 1998, fled south-eastern Turkey during state assimilation operations which saw more than 3,000 Kurdish villages burnt to the ground and tens of thousands massacred.

The UNHCR nominally oversees the administration of the camp, although it has not had a physical presence there since 2014.

“They fled when Isis took control and simply never returned,” officials told the Star during a previous visit.

The jihadists were driven out after just a few weeks by PKK guerillas, a fact that was welcomed by then KRG president Masoud Barzani during a visit to the camp soon afterwards.

He met PKK representatives and thanked them for liberating Makhmour, describing them as “brothers” in the fight against the Islamists.

But he has long since changed his attitude towards both the PKK and the Makhmour camp, supporting Turkey’s military operations and calling for the PKK to be banished from Kurdish lands.

The KRG imposed a blockade in June 2019, preventing much-needed supplies from reaching the camp and placing restrictions on residents’ ability to work and study.

The UNHCR has previously denied knowledge of any such blockade, claiming that the only restrictions on movement were related to the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent communications, the UN agency claimed to “advocate” with relevant public institutions to enable people living in the camp to receive healthcare and education.

“Camp residents rely on public services offered by the government of Iraq and are able to access livelihood opportunities in accordance with Iraqi law,” the UNHCR told the Star.

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