They’re leaving on foot, with carts overloaded with what they hope will be enough to allow them to escape war once again. It’s insufficient to call this an emergency evacuation: over the last eight years, Syria has lost five million people who fled abroad, while another seven million people became internally displaced.
They were coming back to Rojava after the liberation of the northern communities from Islamist occupation. Now they are running away again. The UN says there are 160,000 displaced people, a number that is growing at a frightening pace. According to the autonomous regional government, the real number is much higher: at least 200,000.
“All cities along the border have been struck by heavy bombing,” the activists at the Rojava Information Center (RIC) tell us. “The worst situation is in the cities and suburbs of Tal Abyad and Sere Kaniye, where there are not only air raids, but terrestrial warfare as well. This is where most of the displaced persons are coming from, heading south, toward Hasakeh and Raqqa.”
They’re not only Kurds either, something that demonstrates the multiethnic wealth of Rojava and the whole of Syria: “A great variety of ethnic and religious communities are suffering the same fate. Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, Christians.”
They are running as far away from the border as possible: “In Tel Temer and the villages around it,” the RCI tells us, “1,300 families have arrived. We see people taking refuge in abandoned schools, gas stations, or as guests of other families. The city of Hasakeh is the one that has received the largest number of displaced persons: 100,000 people, half of the total. The situation is very bad. Much of the city has no access to water and the food and medicine are not enough. Many NGOs have left northern Syria or have cut their staff numbers.”
We spoke with a woman named Cecilia on the phone on Sunday afternoon, as the first news of the Turkish bombing of a convoy of fleeing civilians at Sere Kaniye had just come in. The final casualty figures revealed 11 dead and 73 wounded; there was also a young Kurdish journalist among the victims, Seed Ehmed, a correspondent for Hawar News.
Cecilia is a volunteer for Heyva Sor a Kurd (the Kurdish Red Crescent, which has launched a fundraising campaign in Italy), which provides healthcare in Rojava: “For the displaced, the Iraqi border is becoming a problem: the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan only allow those who have residency there or who can prove they have family in the region,” she explains. “So, only those who won’t be a burden as a displaced person or refugee, since they have people to support them inside the country. It is impossible to get to Aleppo: military clashes are ongoing, so if they moved in that direction, it would be a bloodbath. In addition, many are traveling on foot, and many others want to stay within the territory controlled by Kurdish-Arab forces.”
“The UNHCR deals with providing the tents through its branches in the field. Heyva Sor is dealing with the healthcare side, with mobile first aid units and supplies of medicines and vitamins, and is equipping facilities for reception.”
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