Seek­ing safety, Syr­i­ans pile up in shared flats

‘Maybe bomb will go off and we’ll all die to­gether’ Turkey pounds bor­der town as death toll mounts

Kuwait Times - - International -

AFRIN: Day and night, the mem­bers of seven dis­placed fam­i­lies file in and out of the sin­gle bath­room and kitchen they share in a cramped apart­ment in the Syr­ian town of Afrin. Dozens of fam­i­lies have flooded the town to es­cape a three­week as­sault by Turkey and al­lied Syr­ian rebels on towns and vil­lages along the bor­der. Among them is Amuna Has­san’s fam­ily. “We sleep sit­ting up. What kind of sleep is that? How are we sup­posed to fit? Can you imag­ine any­thing worse than that?” rants the el­derly Has­san, a ci­garette in hand. “Maybe a bomb will go off and we’ll all just die to­gether.”

Has­san, her chil­dren, and their fam­i­lies fled Jandairis, a bor­der town south­west of Afrin, as Turk­ish bom­bard­ment of the area ramped up. “We fled un­der fire. It was rain­ing, peo­ple were cry­ing and scream­ing.We fled from death,” she says. They set­tled in a small apart­ment with a half-dozen other fam­i­lies. Be­hind her, women and chil­dren in bright, pat­terned clothes sat on a row of cush­ions. A baby wailed un­con­trol­lably as an el­derly man lay splayed out on a mat­tress, un­fazed by the chaos. “The bath­room doesn’t work. We haven’t bathed in 20 days, but we just want food to eat-you think we’re think­ing about show­ers?” says Has­san, her hair cov­ered in a grey scarf with vi­o­let polka dots. “Hun­gry, thirsty, at least we were at home. Now look where we are-all these peo­ple in just three rooms.”

‘It was tragic’

Turkey and al­lied Syr­ian rebels launched their of­fen­sive on Jan­uary 20 to fight the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), which Ankara con­sid­ers a “ter­ror” group. The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights war mon­i­tor says nearly 70 civil­ians have died in the as­sault, but Turkey says it is do­ing ev­ery­thing in its power to pre­vent civil­ian ca­su­al­ties. Most of the bom­bard­ment has hit bor­der towns and vil­lages, forc­ing res­i­dents to flee in­land to the town of Afrin and board up with rel­a­tives. The United Na­tions es­ti­mates that be­tween 15,000 and 30,000 have been dis­placed by the Turk­ish-led of­fen­sive to other parts of Afrin dis­trict. Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have sealed off ac­cess routes to other parts of Syria, the UN has said.

Ab­del Haj Ah­mad and his 12-mem­ber fam­ily left ev­ery­thing be­hind in their na­tive vil­lage of Sheikh Mo­hamed, north­west of Afrin town. “It was tragic. There were no cars on the road, so we walked with our bags un­til we found a car will­ing to drive us,” the 49-year-old re­calls. Once in Afrin, they set­tled in a rel­a­tive’s mod­est apart­ment-al­ready over­flow­ing with other dis­placed fam­i­lies. “We’re nine fam­i­lies. Nearly 40 peo­ple shar­ing one kitchen and one bath­room! Can you imag­ine?” says Ah­mad. “It’s the first time we un­der­stand what dis­placed life is,” he adds.

Shoes, laun­dry pil­ing up Overnight, the num­ber of peo­ple in Naziliya Balo’s house­hold tripled. “My un­cle’s fam­ily was dis­placed and they came to stay with us. Three fam­i­lies from Qar­nah,” a vil­lage north of Afrin, says the 28year-old. Her 10-mem­ber fam­ily is now host­ing an­other 20 guests. “We’re help­ing each other out. They can’t give us much,” ad­mits Balo. “We’re happy that they came to us, but it’s so sad that they had to leave their houses and come here.”

As the Turk­ish-led of­fen­sive heads into its fourth week, Balo says all of Afrin’s res­i­dents should mo­bilise to help those dis­placed. “There are a lot of tragedies and I get re­ally sad about them. We’ll open our house to every­one. Who­ever’s in need, we’ll help them.” More than six mil­lion peo­ple have been dis­placed in­ter­nally across Syria since its civil war erupted in 2011, many of them more than once. Ab­din Kashad, 30, fled the bor­der vil­lage of Qura Baba with his five fam­ily mem­bers.

“There was ar­tillery fire so we went to the town of Rajo, then they hit Rajo with air strikes so we came to Afrin,” he ex­plains in an ex­hausted mono­tone. Kashad is happy to be safe in Afrin, but he and dozens of other dis­placed are packed tight into a sin­gle apart­ment. Shoes of all sizes are piled up at the door and lines of wash­ing criss-cross the court­yard. “There’s no bath­room here or any­thing, no place for the kids to play,” Kashad tells AFP. “We just want the bomb­ing and air strikes to stop so we can go home.”

AFRIN, Syria: Mem­bers of seven dis­placed Syr­ian fam­i­lies gather in an apart­ment in the Kur­dish Syr­ian town of Afrin, where they are all tak­ing shel­ter after flee­ing from a three-week as­sault by Turkey and al­lied Syr­ian rebels on towns and vil­lages along the bor­der in north­ern Syria.

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