World Refugee Day in Arbat Camp, Northern Iraq

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As Iraq teeters on the brink of chaos, one community in the north of the country can only watch with a tired resignation, and worry.

Arbat Camp near Suleymanieh is home to 2,700 Syrian refugees who fled the fierce fighting between the Islamist rebel group Jabhat al Nusra and the Kurdish militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG) last summer.

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They have already escaped conflict and extremism once. Now they are watching it engulf the place they came to for sanctuary.

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“Of course we’re scared of ISIS in Iraq, they’re killing people,” said Nesjin, a mother of three from the city of Qamishli who has been living in Arbat for the past ten months. “If the situation stays like this we will have to go back to Syria.”

Dawud came to Arbat with his parents and four brothers. Formerly an ironsmith, now he has to pick up casual work in the nearby city of Suleymanieh whenever he can. In the scorching heat of a June afternoon, he has nothing to do but sit and watch the television.

Just over a week ago, he watched the news of ISIS’s advance into Mosul.

“How can I not be afraid?” he said.

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Since the fall of Mosul, Iraq has had its own indigenous refugee crisis to deal with. Half a million people left the city in one day alone. Many of those people are now choosing to go back, preferring to live in fear under ISIS’s suffocating grip than to spend the summer under canvas.

But as the fighting between ISIS and various local armed groups – the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Shi’ite militias, and the remnants of the Iraqi army – continues and intensifies, many more people are leaving their homes.

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