As the first bombs fell on Ras al-Ain, residents of the Kurdish-Syrian village frantically collected treasured possessions and fled their homes. Soon, a 10km long traffic jam snaked south, away from the border with Turkey.
Amid the chaos, a woman pushed her paralyzed son in a wheelchair, trying to escape the bombardment.
“It was a sight that affected me greatly,” a middle-aged lawyer and resident from Ras al-Ain, who declined to be named, told CNN. “We know the woman, and we knew she was mentally unwell.”
The lawyer said he had been busy trying to cram his children into a car leaving the village at the time. In the middle of their frenzied escape, no one from the village was able to help the help the woman, he said.
He left the village three days later, joining more than 160,000 people who have been displaced by the Turkish incursion launched last week, according to the United Nations, but the fate of the woman and her son is unclear.
“There are still some elderly people who I know back at the village,” the lawyer said. “Many of them are unable to leave the house. For the others, they feel that death is one and the same, no matter what the cause might be.”
For years, northern Syria has been a place of refuge for people fleeing battle-stricken parts of the country. Before the Turkish operation began, the area was home to some 650,000 people who had already been displaced at least once, according to Save the Children. Many are finding themselves displaced again as the area becomes the latest frontline in the country’s eight-year war, said CNN report.
In a desperate attempt to escape Turkish shelling, airstrikes and a ground offensive led by Turkey’s military and Turkey-allied Syrian Arab rebels, the displaced have fled to some of the southern-most points of the Kurdish-controlled zone. Turkey is trying to drive out Kurdish fighters from the country’s frontier with Syria, and many of those displaced come from villages near the border.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) operating in the area are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization affiliated with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The SDF, however, are also US allies, and were instrumental in the fight against ISIS.
“Every day, more and more displaced people come to us,” said Qadriya Mohammed, who heads relief operations at GAV4RD, in the governorate of al-Hasakah. “We try every day to open new reception centers.”
The Kurdish-controlled zone, known formally as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), is encircled by the borders of Turkey and Iraq, as well as Syrian regime-controlled territory. With border crossings mostly closed to refugees, and many reluctant to enter regime areas, the displaced have few safe options. (Source: CNN)