THE UNITED NATIONS’ refugee agency has finally broken its silence with what has been branded a bizarre string of denials regarding Turkey’s bombing of the Maxmur refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan more than two weeks ago.
Responding to questions posed by the Morning Star, the UNHCR insisted that it was not aware of the air strikes — despite global coverage, appeals from camp officials and confirmation by the Turkish armed forces.
The agency’s spokesman for Iraq, Firas al-Khateeb claimed: “UNHCR has not recently received any reports of attacks on Maxmur camp.”
Maxmur was targeted by Turkish war planes that struck 81 targets on June 15 as Turkey launched Operation Claw Eagle, an offensive that Ankara claimed was targeting bases associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Mr Khateeb also denied knowledge of an alleged chemical attack on Maxmur during the bombing raid, despite being sent footage by the Morning Star.
He said that the agency would not be looking into the matter as it was outside of its remit to do so. The UN official stopped short of specific mention of Turkey but said the UNHCR “condemns attacks on civilians.”
Maxmur was established by UNHCR in 1998. It is home to about 15,000 refugees who fled Turkey in the 1990s when more than 3,000 Kurdish villages were burnt to the ground in forced-assimilation operations.
But the nature of the relationship has been thrown into confusion, with Mr Khateeb insisting that the agency “is not involved in the management of [the] camp,” and that it was the responsibility of the Iraqi interior ministry.
Camp officials said that while they had not received any recent UNHCR support, they were unaware of any official retreat.
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long pressed the UN to close down the camp, threatening to attack Maxmur if the organisation refused to comply and branding it an “incubator” for terrorism.
Turkey has launched regular air strikes resulting in civilian casualties, acting with impunity and eliciting silence from the international community.
The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Maxmur has been worsened by an embargo placed on the camp by the government of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, the KRG, last year following the killing of a Turkish intelligence agent in Erbil, the region’s capital.
All routes in and out of Maxmur have been closed and it has remained under curfew, with people unable to leave, even for work.
The KRG government is dominated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), known for its close relations with the Turkish regime and hostility to the PKK.
The KDP was recently accused of sending information to Turkey’s National Intelligence Service (MIT), which has established offices in the region.
Large numbers of protests have taken place in front of UNHCR offices over the past year calling for an end to the blockade.
But Mr Khateeb insisted that the agency was unaware of any blockade “aside from the travel restrictions imposed in the context of Covid-19.”
Maxmur officials have repeatedly pleaded with the UN and the international community to break their silence over the desperate situation that is unfolding.