Syrians in Iraq make a new life in an old prison

Murad and his friends play during a sports activity in Akre Refugee Camp.

When eight-year-old Murad and his family fled the conflict in Syria the last place they expected to find safety was in a prison. But after walking across the mountains to reach the Kurdistan region of Iraq, they found refuge in a camp in Akre, located a fortress-like Saddam-era detention centre. Today the roughly 240 Syrian families in the camp cook and sleep in converted prison cells.

Murad walks across the courtyard in front of former prison cells where refugee families now live in Akre Camp.

With help from the Rise Foundation, children living in the camp have painted the walls to brighten the atmosphere of the living space. UNICEF supports the camp school and child-friendly space and has helped improved the water and sanitation infrastructure.

We asked Murad and his family to tell us about their life in the camp, and gave Murad a camera to show us his perspective.

A portrait of Murad.
My name is Murad. I’m eight years old. I’m from Qamishli in Syria. I remember our house in Syria and I remember visiting our relatives and going to the shops with my father. One day I want to go back to Syria.
Murad walks to the UNICEF-supported school in Akre Refugee Camp.
Every day, I wake up early, drink a glass of milk, put on my school uniform and I go to school.
Murad answers a question from his teacher during class at the UNICEF-supported school in the Akre Camp.
I’m in second grade. I love Kurdish class and I love my teachers and friends. I want to become a dentist when I grow up.
Murad’s mother greets him at the entrance to their room as he returns from class.

Murad’s mother Mayada:

We left Syria because of the war. Electricity and water were no longer available, there were no jobs left, and the living conditions were getting worse and worse. People couldn’t go out at night because it wasn’t secure; we couldn’t stay there.
We only brought the clothes we were wearing along with us when we left. We were a group of more than 300 people fleeing together and we had to walk to across the mountains to reach the Kurdistan region in Iraq. We settled in this camp. For the first three months, six families lived in one room and had to share one bathroom. Things have improved here, but one day we’d like to go back to Syria.
Murad and his twin brother Dlyan and sister Dlvin have lunch in their home in the camp.

Murad’s mother Mayada:

My twins [Murad and Dlyan] lost a year of their education when we left Syria. We are happy that they can go back to school now. My husband does not know how to read and write and I’ve only had a primary education so we send the twins to Mrs. Zaynab to help them with their studies.
Murad and his brother study with Mrs. Zaynab.

Mrs. Zaynab, Murad and Dlyan’s tutor:

I was a primary school teacher in Syria. Now I don’t teach in a school but I help several children in the camp with their studies. Murad and his brother come to my house every day at after lunch. I help them better understand their classes and I also assist them with their homework.
Murad works on a math problem during a tutoring session with Mrs. Zaynab.

Mrs. Zaynab, Murad and Dlyan’s tutor:

They love to learn. They also love competing against each other and showing me that they have done well in their quizzes. We are studying math now - I’m teaching them addition and subtraction.
Murad takes part in a sports activity next to the camp.

Murad’s mother Mayada:

I hope one day things will improve in Syria and we can go back. I hope that my children have a better life than mine.

All photos © UNICEF/Iraq/2016/Anmar. Text by Ala Abdullah, a Consultant with UNICEF

To see Murad’s photos of day-to-day life in the camp, follow his work on Instagram: