Syria Kurd families flee to Iraq as array of armies advance



With an array of armies zeroing in on their homes since Turkey launched an offensive on northern Syria, Kurdish families have been joining fellow Kurds across the border in Iraq to escape rockets and bombardment.

Rosine Omar, 28, reached the safety of Berdarch camp in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan from the flashpoint town of Ras al-Ain, a key target of the assault on Kurdish-held northeast Syria that Ankara launched on October 9.

"In Ras al-Ain, the situation was unbearable. We heard rocket fire and were worried the situation would get even worse," she said.

Apart from the immediate dangers of a conflict that has killed dozens of civilians, Omar feared the advance of not only Turkish forces but also of Ankara-backed Syrian rebels and government troops.

"We also were scared the Islamic State (group) or the Free Army (of Syrian rebels) would occupy our town, so we preferred to leave because we had to get our children out of this war," Omar said.

From the early hours of Turkey's third offensive against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in northeast Syria, Zoueida, her husband and their children fled Ras al-Ain.

"We heard the Turkish soldiers were going to bomb out homes so we took to the roads," she said.

Humanitarian officials in Iraqi Kurdistan say almost 1,000 Syrian Kurds have entered since the launch of the Turkish operation codenamed "Peace Spring".

Under Turkish air strikes and artillery fire, Kurdish fighters have defended Ras al-Ain with a network of tunnels, berms and trenches, losing ground but holding off Turkey and its proxies for the past week.

Syrian Kurdish authorities on Thursday called for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from the border town encircled by Ankara's forces.

The appeal came after Turkey's Syrian proxies hit a health facility in the town, trapping patients and staff inside, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

- 'Blood on the streets' -

Zoueida said she was at the home of friends elsewhere in Syrian Kurdistan when she heard that regime troops were entering what has turned into a semi-autonomous zone since the 2011 outbreak of Syria's civil war.

"We've seen a lot of blood on the streets. Children were having to sleep out on the streets, there was no water and nothing to eat," she said.

Her family made their way to the Iraqi border where the Iraqi Kurds have laid on buses to ferry the refugees to Berdarch near the city of Dohuk that was originally built for Iraq's own internally displaced.

Iraqi Kurdistan previously hosted millions of Iraqis who fled fighting with IS jihadists who occupied much of the country's north between 2014 and 2017.

Many of them are still housed in camps for the displaced.

Turkey's week-old offensive has displaced more than 300,000 civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory said Thursday.

The monitoring group's head Rami Abdel Rahman said residents were also being forced to flee areas around Tal Abyad and Kobane and in Hasakeh province of northeast Syria.

Most displaced people tried to move in with relatives in safer areas, some were sleeping rough in orchards and others in some of the 40 schools that have been turned into emergency shelters, Abdel Rahman said.