Syria crisis: CARE moves to help Kobane refugees

By: 
John Uniack Davis
Fidan has fled from Kobane a few months ago with five of her children and her husband. Three of her sons are still in Syria and they have been wounded in the conflict.

As soon as my colleagues and I heard reports of refugees fleeing from the Kurdish enclave of Kobane, Syria – with over 60,000 people having fled to Turkey in the past 24 hours – we drove to the border to assess how CARE can respond to the pressing humanitarian needs.

Along the 10km stretch of the border that we visited, we saw hundreds of refugees, many waiting to figure out where they can find a safe shelter. There were dozens of buses crammed with people, mostly women and children, who had fled Kobane and headed north.

At the unofficial border crossing at Metismail, the spreading smoke to the south was a grim reminder of the closeness of the conflict that was upending so many lives. People who had crossed here were desperate. In one scene that will be forever etched in my mind, a short, elderly woman was slowly, unevenly trudging to safety, leaning on a younger man as she laboriously moved toward her new life in Turkey.

A sense of despair

We saw men, women and children carrying or pulling everything they could manage. In some cases, children were dragging suitcases almost as big as themselves. Dust was everywhere, and a sense of despair was palpable in the air. Some of these people had spent the previous nights sleeping in open fields before they could cross the border.

The people seemed especially shocked to be displaced from Kobane. This majority-Kurdish enclave had been protected and peaceful for most of the Syrian war, to such an extent that people from elsewhere in Syria fled there for security. As a result, people were now experiencing a sense of enormous dismay and concern at having to flee again, with this latest move being a second or third displacement in these last three years.

Nowhere to go

Many of the new arrivals have absolutely nowhere to go. My colleague along with our interpreter Halima spoke to some women and children who had been seated in the dust at the border for hours because “they didn’t know where to go or how to get there”.

The more than 100,000 refugees who have crossed from Kobane in recent days join nearly 850,000 registered Syrian refugees who were already in Turkey. The Turkish Government has done a herculean job meeting the needs of refugees, but more support is needed from the international community in order to keep up with the ever-increasing burden.

CARE's rapid assessment of refugee needs

With the giant influx of the past few days, CARE is assessing needs and coordinating with the Turkish authorities and other organizations to make sure that we meet the most basic needs of people who have arrived recently, often with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Some necessary assistance will certainly include access to food and safe drinking water, as well as basic hygiene. As the cold winter approaches, CARE will also aim to provide support with mattresses, blankets, heaters and other items as needed.

As I left the border near Kobane, I reflected on the heart-wrenching human impact but also on the generosity of the Turkish people who have accepted the great burden of over a million refugees. The international community must rise to the occasion and support Turkey in meeting the enormous need engendered by the Kobane crisis in particular and the long Syrian crisis in general.

 Read CARE's assessment of refugee needs based on interviews with approximately 400 people.

John Uniack Davis's picture

John Uniack Davis is Country Director for CARE Turkey