Nearly 4,000 people have fled their homes in Iraq’s northern semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan over the past two weeks in the wake of Turkish bombardments of rebel hideouts, a local official said on 26 December.
"Since 16 December when Turkish warplanes renewed their bombing of the borders, nearly 700 families, about 4,000 people, have fled their villages, leaving everything behind," said Mohammed Khalil, a spokesman for the Regional Displacement and Immigration Directorate.
Some are beginning to realise that they may not be able to return home soon and are considering alternative livelihoods in the cities and towns to which they have fled.
"The villagers’ displacement is still continuing… and could get out of control. Some of these families have lost their cattle or have seen their homes… demolished," Khalil told IRIN in a phone interview.
The affected families had gone to relatives’ and friends’ houses but these hosts could not provide shelter for long, he said. As yet no camps have been set up. Aid supplies are being dispatched, in cooperation with local officials in each area, he added.
In search of a new life
Hama Numan Jalil, speaking from a relative’s house in Arbil, said it had become unbearable to live in the border area.
"I lost all my animals last week: nine cows, 18 sheep and 14 goats which we depend on for a living," Jalil, a 65-year-old father of eight, told IRIN in a phone interview.
"We left everything behind - our home, which is partially damaged, and our land, and now we have ended up here at my cousin's home in the city; my cousin has 10 sons to feed already," Jalil said.
Jalil is now thinking about taking two of his sons out of school to help feed the family.
"This conflict looks like it will go on for a long time. We have to think seriously about finding new ways to make a living. The boys can sell items on the roadside or work as masons or drivers," he said.
Recent military action
The most recent attack was on 26 December when Turkish warplanes hit eight suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts, according to Turkey's military, quoted by media reports.
The warplanes targeted eight caves and other hideouts used by the rebels in an "effective pinpoint operation" after spotting a group of rebels in the hideouts, the military said in a statement posted on its website.
The 26 December strikes were the third confirmed aerial operations against the rebels since 16 December. The military has also confirmed it sent in ground troops to hunt down the rebels on 18 December.
Turkey's military said on 25 December that over 200 Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq had been hit since 16 December and that hundreds of rebels had been killed.
On 18 December the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expressed concern about the increasing number of people being driven from their homes by the shelling.
"We are very concerned about the displacement of people in northern Iraq caused by the ongoing shelling by Turkey and have urgently dispatched supplies to help those who fled, leaving everything behind," UNHCR spokesperson Astrid van Genderen Stort said.
“Winter has set in and living conditions are very harsh, particularly for host families which now have to care for additional people," van Genderen Stort said.
She said many of those displaced could not afford to pay monthly rents of US$200-$300 for accommodation.
Non-food items such as blankets, mattresses, stoves, lanterns and other relief goods were distributed by the UNHCR to the most needy families in Sulaimaniyah and Arbil but there was still an urgent need for kerosene.
This new wave of displaced people adds to the approximately 2.4 million who have been driven from their homes to other parts of Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. Some 2.2 million have also fled to neighbouring countries, mostly to Syria and Jordan, according to the UNHCR.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions