For those living in northeastern Syria, the Simalka-Faish Khabur crossing on the border with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is the only gateway to the outside world.
Every day, an estimated 400 to 800 people cross the Tigris River between Iraqi Kurdistan and the de-facto Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, also known as Rojava. The Simalka-Faish Khabur Border Crossing, which is demarcated by the river itself, is navigated by small shuttle boats between the Syrian and Iraqi border posts on the river banks.
In addition to the passage of pedestrians, the crossing provides Rojava with its only means of importing humanitarian supplies, including aid, food and other basic necessities. The crossing has remained open as a result of a deal struck between the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Democratic Union Party of Syria (PYD).
The maintenance of the crossing is essential not only for the residents of Rojava, but also for the thousands of displaced people that have sought shelter in the region. This includes an estimated 14,000 Iraqis who were displaced from their homes in Nineveh Province as a result of the onslaught of ISIS between 2014 and 2017.
“Every day about 500 people, including refugees, visitors and patients, enter northern Syria, Rojava,” said Mohammed Sabhi, an official at the border crossing. “At the same time, 300 people a day from the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, or Rojava, pass to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Simalka crossing is open to humanitarian cases and patients.”
For Syrians from northeastern Syria that had previously fled abroad, the Simalka-Faish Khabur crossing provides them with a means of visiting family and keeping in touch with their communities. The relative stability of Rojava, which is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), means that displaced people can now re-enter their country with little fear of encountering ISIS militants.
“I came from Germany to Syria through this crossing to congratulate my family on Eid,” said Mohammed Nouh, a Syrian refugee. “After Eid, I will return to Germany through this only crossing between us and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”