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Iraqis Create Market in Mud of Displaced Camp of Khazir | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqis displaced by the battle of Mosul in the newly established Khazir refugee camp, east of Mosul.- Reuters

Khazir Camp-Mobile phones, cartons of cigarettes and fresh mutton are all on sale inside a camp for Iraqi civilians displaced in the battle to recapture Mosul — if they have the money.

In the Khazir camp, buyers trudge in the mud, skidding around in flimsy shoes and examining improvised market stalls on the ground between tents that shelter thousands of people.

Behind his makeshift display of mobile phones and USB cables, 28-year-old Waad Khalaf smiled.

Buyers are permanently flocking to his stall, he said.

Under the control of ISIS group, “having a mobile meant prison so now everybody needs to buy one,” he said, putting his hands in the pockets of his fake leather jacket to warm them.

The former laborer escaped his home town of Gogjali on the outskirts of Mosul in northern Iraq in November as fighting raged there between Iraqi forces and ISIS militants.

Selling phones for up to around 130,000 Iraqi dinars ($100) each allows him to buy warm winter clothes and shoes for his daughter and son, says the father-of-two.

Khalaf and his wife can then also afford to buy medicine from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan several dozen kilometers to the east, he said.

Not far away in the improvised market, Khalaf’s clients can charge their new phone by plugging it in to a multi-socket extension cord linked to a generator.

In a camp with receiving just four hours of electricity a day, savvy young entrepreneurs ask for the equivalent of around 40 U.S. cents for an hour of power from the roaring machine.

Khalaf has only been selling his phones for three days, but Farhan Yassin said he was one of the first salesmen at the improvised market.

“It happened just like that”, he said. “We never spoke to each other but somehow we all ended up here.”

For 12 days, Yassin has been selling cigarettes as a way of returning to normality after living under the rule of extremists.

He lost his shop in Mosul after ISIS closed it down and made him pay the equivalent of around $1,300 for selling cigarettes, he said, which were just as sinful as mobile phones under their ultra-conservative rule.

He now sells each packet of cigarettes for around 500 dinars (around 40 U.S. cents) after buying them in bulk from Erbil.

Ammar, a barber, also left Mosul last month when anti-ISIS forces arrived at the gates of Iraq’s extremist-held second city.

He was only able to smuggle a pair of scissors in his bag as he fled and had to buy all the rest of his equipment from Erbil.

Seating his clients in front of a mirror, he uses his new gear to trim their beards or snip their hair.

His customers “pay what they want as nobody is working” he said, holding a plastic comb in his hand and having bags of vegetables left behind on his small table as payments from customers.

The 26-year-old history graduate was unable to work as a teacher under ISIS rule as the group set up its own schools, said the young man.

When he was not able to find work at a camp school either, he again resorted to his snipping skills to support his young daughter “who needs diapers and powder milk.”

Not far from where he cuts hair, powder milk is on sale next to sanitary pads, underwear, metal cutlery and fizzy drinks for those who have money.

Cash is in rare supply among the roughly three million people displaced from war in Iraq.

However, one couple found a solution. They slip bags of rice and lentils they receive as aid through the fence surrounding the camp to people on the other side who buy them for a few precious bank notes.