Kurds reach Turkish camp but find no end of suffering


Turkish soldiers have forbidden foreign reporters to enter camps near the border with Iraq where tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees are huddling. But correspondent Diana Jean Schemo, disguised as a Kurdish woman, succeeded yesterday in getting into one. This is what she found.

ISIKVEREN, Turkey -- The year-old baby was playful, smiling and trying to press his face against his mother's cheek. But each time, his head drooped or rolled backward before he could make it. "He will die tomorrow," his mother, Atika Abdulla, said, weeping.

"I haven't eaten in two weeks. I have no milk left," she cried, showing her lifeless breast through her robe.

She had come with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds and other fugitives from Saddam Hussein's hell in northern Iraq to stumble, exhausted and sick, into this camp near the border town of Cizre -- and into the Turkish military's apparent indifference to their misery.

The babies have no milk while the parents have no food. Baby bottles are filled with water so filthy, even after it is boiled, that dirt settles at the bottom.

Children sit weeping steadily, their noses running and their faces dirty. From another nearby refugee camp comes the sound of machine-gun fire.

By 4 p.m. yesterday, the 15,000 refugees of this makeshift camp said they had not received any food since Friday morning. They said that three men who tried to leave the camp to buy food from the village were beaten by soldiers and left with three broken legs.

"I am hungry," said Suzanne Aieman, a teacher from Dohuk.

She cradled her baby, Nujdar, who is suffering from diarrhea. At noon, she said her baby had soiled his diaper 10 times since the tTC morning. "I am turning the diaper inside out each time," she said.

Her husband, Yusin Aieman, was a medical student at Dohuk. He has tried to provide some medical attention here with only skimpy supplies of antibiotics and other medications.

A visiting doctor the government sent in offered Dr. Aieman 48 packets of oral rehydration therapy for the infants, enough to treat only six or eight babies.

"How could I run a camp with 2,000 children who all have diarrhea with only 48 packets? I couldn't even accept the medicine. I threw it back," said Dr. Aieman, who came here with his extended family of 19.

Each night, 11 or more of them lie squeezed into the 5- by 8-foot tent pitched by branches only 2 feet high. He said he had not slept in five days and was wearing the same clothes in which he left Iraq.

"At the end of the 20th century, while everyone is saying this will be the century of peace, nobody even looks at how we are suffering. We left our cars, we left our houses," he said, looking down at his filthy pants and his mud-caked bare feet. "A doctor in this condition," he said and wiped his eyes.

The absence of food and supplies here yesterday did not appear to be for lack of means, however. Though foreign relief had yet to reach here, Kurdish communities from as far away as Diyarbakir, about 300 miles west, had been sending trucks packed with blankets, food, plastic sheeting and other supplies.

But the Turkish military did not deliver any supplies here yesterday. The military is trying to move the refugees to a larger camp, one hour's journey up the mountain, in the no man's land between Iraq and Turkey.

The soldiers in this region, preoccupied with battling the Kurdish separatist movement, do not want to see these 15,000 refugees seep through the mountain and into Turkey permanently.

When the refugees complained yesterday of their children's illnesses, their hunger and the lack of water, a soldier shouted at them that they would find all they needed at the "Golden Plateau," where the other camp is located.

But there are already 60,000 refugees on the Golden Plateau, and soldiers and officers acknowledge that conditions there are much worse than in this camp. It is higher up the mountain, where temperatures are colder. It is also more remote, and so more difficult to supply with food and other necessities.

A staff officer here, who asked not to be identified, said that neither medicine nor food would be coming to this camp. "We haven't any health service here," he said. "There isn't any food service here."

But he admitted that for the moment the Golden Plateau was hardly any better. It had three doctors and three nurses, he said. A group of nurses and doctors at a hotel near this refugee camp were scheduled to begin work at the Golden Plateau to

day but said they had no medical supplies or equipment.

Friday night at 8, soldiers ordered the refugees to pack up their meager belongings for the hike to the refugee camp up the mountain. Fearful of being sent back to Iraq and fearful of challenging the soldiers who run the camp, the Iraqi Kurds walked nearly a mile before refusing to go on.

"They opened fire above the women and children to make us leave this place," said Dr. Aieman.

"The government said, 'If you don't go, we won't allow any food to get to you.' From yesterday until now, there is no food," he said.

The refugees have not been visited by any international relief agency nor by the Turkish Red Crescent, despite the magnitude of the exodus. Their names are not listed on any registry, and they fear that they could die here without any record.

Everything the refugees needed, the soldiers promised, was at theGolden Plateau.

"There is water there," a soldier told one woman. "Everything is there."

People here are thirsty much of the time.

Getting to the stream on the other side of the road bordering this camp is its own trial and means waiting at least two hours in the rain and cold, while Turkish soldiers use threats, jokes and taunts to keep the Kurds from rushing pell-mell for the water.

"You want to rush to the other side?" one soldier taunted a crowd of women. "Saddam Hussein is waiting for you there." He repeated the remark several times.

Refugees here said soldiers denied them access to the stream three days ago and then offered to sell 5-liter bottles of water to them for 5 dinars each -- about $1.50 at the black market rate.

Without food or, more importantly, pledges from any country to ultimately accept them, and with Turkey appearing determined to starve them off its territory, the refugees have sunk into frustration and despair.

Fights are breaking out over simple things, like places in line, that would not be likely to bother them in less desperate times.

"When we were coming in from Iraq, we had no food, but we had hope," Dr. Aieman said. "Now we have no food and no hope."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad