Ein Tamor Refugee Camp: Sad Stories of the Falluja Continuing Tragedy
Eman Ahmed Khammas
Ein Tamor (Spring of Dates) is a small picturesque spot in the western Iraqi desert, 90 kilometers to the west of the sacred Karbala. It is part of a bigger oasis that contains the Razzazah Lake, many smaller towns, date palm and fruit thick orchards surrounding the lake, and a very important historical fortress called Al-Ekheider Castle. In the seventies, this area was developed as a resort; a tourist complex was built in Ein Tamor.
The tourist complex was fifty small flats surrounding the lake and the colorful natural springs. After the 1991 war, and during the UN economic sanctions against Iraq through the nineties until 2003, this tourist area was neglected, like many other similar places all over Iraq. During this period, when tourism was not a priority in Iraq, the complex was mainly visited by newly wed couples who spent their honey moon there. In April 2003, after the occupation of Iraq, the complex was looted and damaged, nothing remained except the walls.
Now it is a refugee camp for more than 50 Fallujan families, who fled the bombing and killings last October. It is like Habbaniya, another refugee camp, which was a tourist complex 40 kilometers to the north, near the Habbaniya Lake.
Obviously, Fallujans fled to these places because there were walls and roofs which can be used as better shelters than tents in the cold season. Ein Tamor, once one of the most beautiful areas of Iraq where picnics were made especially in winter, is now one of the saddest places. To go there, one has to go through the Triangle of death south of Baghdad, where many attacks against the occupying troops take place daily.
Usually it takes an hour to go to Karbalaa. It took us 3 hours, because of the check points, a bombed car that was still on fire, and traffic jam due to fuel (kilometers-long) queues. The roads are not the same. I used to go there to visit my grand mother. These are not the roads I used to go through; they are not roads at all, nothing is straight, just snake-like curves in the dusty wilderness. Paradoxically, the way from Karbalaa to Ein Tamor was calmer, better, and easier to go through, although the Iraqi Human Rights Watch members who accompanied us to the refugee camp warned us of looters.
The refugee camp was a club of sadness. Every one there had a story, even the children.
"No one visited us, except these people" said Sabiha Hashim, pointing to the Iraqi HRW members who accompanied us. She is a crippled widow in her fifties, and a mother of two young boys. She was burnt two years ago, and was handicapped since. Wrapped in a blanket, she was sitting in the middle of her miserable properties. Few dirty dishes, a blackened broken oil lamp that has not been cleaned ever, small primitive oil stove…etc. There was a new electric heater donated by some generous donor, but there was no electricity. Sabiha was silent," why do not you talk to this lady" Sami of the Iraqi HRW asked her, pointing to me," she came from Baghdad to see you".
"She did not ask" replied Sabiha.
"How did you come here?" I asked looking for some thing to say, after I saw her inhuman, totally unacceptable situation.
"The neighbors brought me when the bombing began"
" She promised to give me a dinar for every joke I tell her" said Sami, trying to lighten the very gloomy atmosphere " she is my fiancée now"
"poor Sami" I said, "now you have to look for 1000 jokes to get 1000 dinars" ($ 0.7)
"What do you need", I asked Sabiha
"What is it?"
"I do not know, I did not bring the doctor's receipt, there was no time. It is unfair" that was the only thing Sabiha said about her tragedy.
I looked for my friend Dr. Intisar, she is a pharmacist who is working with me and other Iraqi doctors to help Falluja refugees with medicines and supplies. I could not see her any where, but I could see a big crowd of women and children near the gate.
"Your friend, Dr. Intisar, is examining the children and giving medicines", said Ismael Chali, a man in his fifties who is helping in running the camp.
It was not raining that day, Ein Tamor was sunny and warm. The gardens are no more than dusty yards now, few dry trees scattered, the once beautiful tourist flats are just walls, with hanging sheets of cloths serving as doors and windows. Falluja women did amazing job keeping the whole place clean.
"May be you want to see this old man" Sami said and pointed to a man sitting in the sun, two crunches in his hands. Hussein Abdul Nabbi, had an accident and broke his thighs. He is the father of a family of 18; two of them are young and very healthy looking men.
"What are you doing here?" I asked them, in a rather criticizing tone.
"Waiting for God's mercy" one of them replied," we are cotton carders, our shop was burnt, three electric sewing machines, cotton and cloths that worth 2 million dinars, and other equipments ,all are gone"
"But staying here does not help, does it" I insisted
"We went to Falluja a week ago; we waited the whole day but could not pass through the check points. Next day we went at 3 am, it was not before 3 pm that we could pass through the third sonar check point. Our house was destroyed, there is a huge hole in the ceiling, the fence is totally ruined, and the furniture damaged. The soldiers told us not to move out side the house or open the door after 6 pm. We are not supposed to make any noise; there is no electricity, no water, no shops, no hospitals, and no schools. How are we supposed to live there with our families? There are no families there, only men, those who can not live in tents any longer."
Other Fallujans told us that burning houses, bombing and looting are still going on until now.
Mustapha, 20 years, a student, said that he found his house, the furniture, the door, and the car destroyed and burnt. But the American soldiers told him not to use any thing from Falluja, not to use the sheets and blankets for example, not to drink water, and that if he does, it is his own decision and he has to take the responsibility for that.
"What does that mean?"
It means that everything in Falluja is contaminated" "
Ahmad Hashim, a guard in the Falluja sewage station, and a father of 3 children, found his house, which was no more than a room under the water tank, burnt." If a child gets ill, he simply dies, it is suicide to decide to go back to Falluja now"
Alahin Jalil, a young beautiful wife and a mother of 4 children, decided to go back home , no matter what. She was too tired of difficulties in the refugee camp, "I have to go to Karbalaa for medicines, there is no water here, no fuel, no money" . When she went to Falluja, she found out that her house which was in Nazzal district, one of the most bombed areas in Falluja, was totally destroyed. She decided to return back to the refugee camp, but it was not a better option. "For the whole family we get half a sheet of ampiciline (anti-biotic)
Money was the most difficult problem in the camp. These families consumed all their savings, if they had any. Food is given according to the food ration ID. Many of them fled Falluja without bringing their documents. Those get no food.
"What about the 150.000 dinars that are given to each Falluja family that we read about in the newspapers this week?"
"We never heard about them" every body replied. Where is UN, the Iraqi government, the humanitarian orgs, the Red Crescent, the Red Cross…they asked.
Darawsha is a small village 5 kilometers to the west of Ein Tamor. The Iraqi HRW in Karbalaa told us that its villagers share their houses with Falluja refugees. When we entered Darawsha, I remembered what James Baker said before the 1991 American attack on Iraq. "We will return Iraq to the middle ages" he said. This is not even the middle ages. The narrow muddy streets, small clay huts were dark, cold and crowded with big families. The smoky burning wet branches are not giving warmth to the damp cottages, more than the thick suffocating smoke .
Sheikh Farhan Al-Duleimi, the local council head, said" my name is Farhan (happy), but I am very sad for what happened to Falluja… at the same time this is a good example of the Shiite-Sunni unity in Iraq. Darawsha families are all Shiite, but they are welcoming Sunnis from Falluja as if they are one family, despite the fact that they are poor, and already in need of much help themselves.
We decided to stop in the middle of the village, and to donate the medicines and financial help to the families, promising them and ourselves to come back again to listen to their stories. It was already 4 pm, we need to hurry back because it is too dangerous to be on the highway after sunset. There are at least 85 Falluja families here. Dr. Intisar opened the car box and began to donate medicines. A young, shy girl approached her and said "do you need help, I am a pharmacist". We asked the villagers to form a committee with at least one woman in it, to receive the money and distribute it on the Falluja refugees.
"You need to go to Rahaliya and Ahmad bin Hashim villages" said Abbass, from the Iraqi HRW, who was accompanying us all the time," the situation in those refugee camps are much more difficult, and they rarely get any help, because they are too far away"
"Then we need to come back again soon", I replied
"Yes, you have also to visit refugees from Basra, Amara and the marshes"
"What are you talking about?"
"There are refugees from the south, fleeing from the worsening security situation".
The way back to Baghdad was the most difficult part of the trip. At 5.30 it was deep dark. No lights on the way, no moon and too much dust. Some of the check points were already deserted by security men. The highway was almost empty except of us. "If you were men I would not worry "Ahmad, our driver said. We could tell that he was very tense, reading lines of the Holy Quran all the time, and smoking too much. "Those looters are the worst of criminals".
Dr. Intisar was very calm and exhausted "I love you" she suddenly said.
I was too tired to ask what made her say so. Surprisingly, we were not afraid at all, of any thing.
To be continued.....
Eman Ahmed Kmammas is a journalist with, and co-director of Occupation Watch
( http://www.occupationwatch.org/ ), a translator, and advised the
Code Pink Delegation on Iraqi women’s issues during January 24 – February 4, 2004.
Courtesy of Dirk Adriaensens
:: Article nr. 8889 sent on 16-jan-2005 02:50 ECT
The original address of this article is : www.brusselstribunal.org