Kurd families flee to Iraq as armies advance

Under Turkish airstrikes 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. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2019

Kurd families flee to Iraq as armies advance

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

BERDARCH/IRAQ: 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 Oct. 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.

He said that they were also scared that Daesh 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.”

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 airstrikes 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.

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 Kobani and in Hasakah 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.

What shapes the Middle East's migration patterns

Updated 3 min 54 sec ago

What shapes the Middle East's migration patterns

  • An estimated 29 million people have migrated from Arab countries since 1990, according to UN data
  • Political crises and civil conflicts have blurred the lines between voluntary and forced migration

ABU DHABI: Less than two months since an unhappy year for the Arab region’s migrants and refugees came to an end, the omens of things to come are far from good.

According to the latest “Situation Report on Migration in the Arab Region,” prepared by the Inter- national Organization for Migra- tion (IOM) in collaboration with various UN agencies, displacement and migration are two prominent trends at the beginning of 2020. Particularly — and unsurprisingly — in countries withongoing wars.

An overwhelming majority of Arab countries endorsed the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) at the UN General Assembly in December 2018, voting to adopt its principles in national legislatures.


29m - An estimated 29 million people have migrated from Arab countries since 1990.

1/2 - Almost half of the people who migrated stayed within the Arab region.

9.1m - Refugees who have sought protection in the Arab region include 3.7 million under the mandate of the UN Refugee Agency and 5.4 million registered with UNRWA.

14.5% - The number of migrant workers in 18 Arab countries stood at 23.8 million in 2017, representing 14.5 percent of all migrant workers globally.

Subsequently, the number of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea was found to have plunged in 2018 to almost a tenth of what it was in 2015.

However, the reality of the region’s migrant and refugee situa- tion belies the hopes raised by the adoption of the GCM.

In Libya, for example, there was a steep deterioration last year in the living conditions of migrants and refugees stranded in the unstable North African country.

The country’s protracted civil conflict has not only caused massive displacement within its borders, but also means it has become a dangerous place for economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa wishing to travel to Europe. World leaders have just pledged in Berlin not to interfere in Libya’s civil conflict and to uphold a UN arms embargo, but only time will tell if that promise will be honored.

In Syria, meanwhile, the human- itarian situation in Idlib — the last stronghold of opposition forces and a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons (IDP) — remains shaky as Russian- backed regime forces press on, despite mounting civilian casualties.

In Yemen, a peace opportunity was missed in early 2019, and there has been no let-up since in the fighting between government forces and the Houthi militia, who control the capital Sanaa and the northern highlands. The country currently hosts between 2 million and 3.5 million IDPs and another 1.28 million returnees, in addition to 279,000 migrants and refugees — almost exclusively from Somalia and Ethiopia — for whom the country is a short-term way station, not a final destination.

Lebanon is in the grip of a wide- ranging crisis, too. People at the bottom of the economic ladder, including 1.5 million Syrian refugees and almost 500,000

Palestinian refugees, supple- ment their meager incomes with handouts from aid agencies. Even before the protests erupted in Lebanon in October last year, a UN vulnerability assessment report for refugees in the country, carried out in early 2019, made grim reading.

It said about 73 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon were living below the poverty line — up from 69 percent the year before, and considerably higher than the estimated 28 percent of Lebanese in the same situation.

Of course, migration and displacement have long shaped the Arab region, with countries simultaneously acting as points of origin, transit and destination.

However, in recent years, the distinction between voluntary and forced migration has become blurred as political crises and civil conflicts — viewed as the chief causes of human displace- ment — have proliferated. “The challenge today is to put in place policies that will ensure successful and true integration while benefiting both the countries of residence and origin,” Laura Petrache, a senior adviser at Migrant Integration Lab, told Arab News.

According to UN reports, the number of migrants and refugees originating from the Arab region reached 29 million in 2017. Almost half of them remained in the region. Overall, the number of migrants and refugees as a propor- tion of the total population of the Arab region has risen steadily over the past three decades.

In 2018, around 80 percent of the region’s refugees originated in the Levant, mostly on account of the Syrian conflict.



Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Sudan are among the top 10 Arab destinations for migrants and IDPs owing to conflicts in the neighborhood. Apart from Lebanon, all of those countries have witnessed an increase in the number of refugees and migrants within their borders since 2015.

After Turkey, Jordan was the second-most-popular destination country for refugees and migrants from the region, with Lebanon, 

Saudi Arabia and the UAE also reporting significant numbers. Iraq was the only country that saw its national refugee and migrant population decrease.

What the latest reports confirm is that migration in the Arab world not only has multiple drivers — socio-economic pressures, polit- ical instability and environmental degradation — but also complex patterns and trends.

Take the Gulf and the Levant regions. They attract different kinds of migrants because their levels of stability, security and development are not comparable. While Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are plagued by conflict, violence, corruption and divisions in both society and polity, GCC member countries are leading the way in groundbreaking ideas and investments, building cities of the future and attracting talent from across the world.

The migrant population in the GCC countries swelled from 8.2 million in 1990 to 28.1 million in 2017 — a substantial rise compared with figures for other parts of the Arab region.

Around 27 percent of global remittance outflows in 2017 reportedly came from the Arab region, estimated at $120.6 billion, and almost all of that (98.9 percent or $119.3 billion) came from GCC countries. According to the IOM’s report, the top remittance- sending countries were the UAE (at $44.3 billion) and Saudi Arabia (at $36.1 billion).

Under the circumstances, it is difficult to see meaningful, positive change for migrants happening any time soon in the Arab region, with the possible exception of the GCC.

“Migration policy making should move away from assimila- tionist frameworks,” Petrache, of the Migrant Integration Lab, told Arab News. “Instead, the policy emphasis should be on working with countries of origin to achieve sustainable integration — and re-integration in the case of return immigration.

“The policies should take into consideration the potential for win-win solutions using and developing the capability of the migrants to make a positive contri- bution to local host communities,” Petrache said.