Iraq: Families flee homes near Turkish border

( IRIN ) - About 120 Iraqi families living near the Iraqi-Turkish border have been forced to abandon their homes by fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), according to the Kurdistan Campaign to Help Victims of War, an NGO, and local residents.

"Militants broke into our home and told us to leave within an hour. They were armed and we couldn't resist," said Firamerz Adar, 48, from Deshtetek village, near the border. "One of my neighbours who complained was beaten and then forced to leave with his 11 family members.

"They said we could return to our homes when the fighting with Turkish forces ended. We took a few things with us and started to walk south, trying to find a vehicle that could take us to a safer place," Adar added.

Sergevaz Lafaw, a Kurdish rebel commander of the PKK, told IRIN: "Some families have been forced out of their homes because their residences are of strategic importance and also for their own safety as shells could fall on their homes and hurt their loved ones."

Over 7,000 displaced

The group of about 120 families has joined nearly 7,000 people who have fled areas near the border since mid-October, Kalif Dirar, a senior official in the Kurdistan regional government, said.

Dirar told IRIN that tensions were rising despite the Iraqi government's efforts to prevent a major offensive at the border, which could lead to a humanitarian crisis.

" Iraq is already living in humanitarian chaos and more than four million people are displaced countrywide. We need to prevent this, the safest area of the country where thousands of families are taking refuge, from becoming another area of devastation and destruction," Dirar said.

"Frightened families are fleeing their homes near the border on a daily basis at the rate of about 25 families a day and many residents of Zakho have been moving to cities in other governorates, increasing the number of displaced families which the government and NGOs are now not able to fully supply," he added.

Few NGOs offering support

Rastgo Muhammad Barsaz, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Campaign to Help Victims of War, said the displaced families needed urgent assistance. "Most families who fled villages near the Iraqi border left their homes carrying few items of clothing and some of them, anxious about their relatives' safety, fled without taking anything," he said.

Barsaz said most families initially tried to find refuge at Zakho but few NGOs have been offering support in the area and he called for a faster delivery of supplies, including food parcels, tents, potable water and clothes.

"Some families have travelled to Erbil and Sulaimaniyah but are in the same critical situation as prices in the area have risen and they cannot afford the high rents and food supplies," Barsaz said.

No civilian casualties have been reported but doctors in hospitals near the border have asked for painkillers, syringes, intravenous glucose and surgical supplies.

"Our hospitals aren't prepared for a major offensive. We hope NGOs and the government will provide enough supplies to prevent chaos at the health centre, which until now has been functioning well in Kurdistan," said Ahmed Behi from Zakho General Hospital.

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