Sorya Ahmed, 55, a grandmother from Ras Al Ayn. When Turkey announced their military operations in north east Syria she moved to different locations hoping that the situation would calm down, however things were escalating and the fighting was reaching them from one village to another. Eventually, Sorya and her family decided to leave Syria and seek refuge in Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Sorya has been displaced three times during eight years of war but this time was more horrifying than any time before. 
“We saw people burning in front of us. We escaped running over their dead bodies, there were no safe routes to escape, and they did not secure a road for civilians to leave.”
“We were 23 people; there were kids, women and young men with us. The smugglers were asking for a big amount of money. We did not have any money but we had my son's car, so we gave them the car instead of money.”
“At the border, we walked for around six hours. We were so scared that ISIS or anyone else would attack us. All of these children were with us without water and food.”
“On the way, we did not know who we are dealing with. Even men started to get scared because we no longer knew where we were going.”
“There is nothing to go back to, they burnt my house, and in Ras Al Ayn the original people of the area have left (now is full of Arabs and people from other areas). Even if I eat soil here I would not go back to Syria.”


Photo: Alan Ayoubi/NRC
Date: 02 December 2019
Syria

Anywhere but home

“My house was burnt down, and the original people of my area have left. Even if I had to eat soil here in the camp I would never go back to Syria.” Sorya, 55, fled from her home in north eastern Syria at the end of 2019 following Turkey’s deadly military operation. She now lives in a refugee camp in northern Iraq. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is providing emergency assistance to people like Sorya whose homes have recently been destroyed.

Sorya is a grandmother from Ras Al Ayn in north eastern Syria. She has been displaced three times during the eight years of the Syrian conflict. But this time her reasons for fleeing were more horrifying than ever, forcing her to flee the country.

“We saw people burning in front of us,” she said. "We escaped running over their dead bodies.”

She fled with 23 people. There were women, young men and children. Many were members of her own family.

All roads were subject to indiscriminate shelling. There were no safe routes for civilians to escape.

“At the border, we walked for around six hours. We were so scared that IS group or anyone else would attack us. All of these children were with us without water and food.”

Without any other option, the group had to resort to smugglers to reach safety in Iraq.

“On the way, we did not know who we were dealing with. Even men started to get scared because we no longer knew where we were going.”

Read caption Refugees living in northern Iraq share their experiences of fleeing Syria.

Desperate measures

Many refugees hope to return home after their displacement. But for some, the horrors that they have witnessed, combined with recurring dangers, prevent them from doing so.

A study conducted by NRC in Bardarash Camp, where Sorya now lives, found that 95 per cent of the refugees residing here don’t think they will return to their homes in Syria. Instead, they plan to remain in Iraq.

This is a sentiment shared by Sorya.

“Where would I go if I had to go back? My house was burnt down, and the original people in my area have left. Even if I had to eat soil here in the camp I would never go back to Syria.”
Sorya Ahmed, 55, a grandmother from Ras Al Ayn. When Turkey announced their military operations in north east Syria she moved to different locations hoping that the situation would calm down, however things were escalating and the fighting was reaching them from one village to another. Eventually, Sorya and her family decided to leave Syria and seek refuge in Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Sorya has been displaced three times during eight years of war but this time was more horrifying than any time before. 
“We saw people burning in front of us. We escaped running over their dead bodies, there were no safe routes to escape, and they did not secure a road for civilians to leave.”
“We were 23 people; there were kids, women and young men with us. The smugglers were asking for a big amount of money. We did not have any money but we had my son's car, so we gave them the car instead of money.”
“At the border, we walked for around six hours. We were so scared that ISIS or anyone else would attack us. All of these children were with us without water and food.”
“On the way, we did not know who we are dealing with. Even men started to get scared because we no longer knew where we were going.”
“There is nothing to go back to, they burnt my house, and in Ras Al Ayn the original people of the area have left (now is full of Arabs and people from other areas). Even if I eat soil here I would not go back to Syria.”


Photo: Alan Ayoubi/NRC
Date: 02 December 2019
Read caption Sorya, 55, has been displaced three times during eight years of war but this time was more horrifying than any time before. Photo: Alan Ayoubi/NRC

This confirms the widespread fear, suffering and desperation which engulfed the north eastern region of Syria since Turkey started its military operation in October 2019.

Barriers to seeking safety

The Turkish military operation began on 9 October 2019 when the US announced the withdrawal of their forces. It involved aerial bombardment, artillery shelling and ground fighting. It has forced more than 17,900 Syrians to flee into Iraq.

Refugees told us of harrowing journeys, fleeing shelling and troop advances. Being forced to trek long distances across the hilly border in the cold at night. Many families were separated during these difficult journeys.

Others have recalled witnessing civilian casualties. Suleiman, aged just 18, told us:

“On our way, airstrikes hit somebody in front of my eyes. His head was ripped off his body. I could only see his head. The body was missing.”
Suleiman and his younger sister were sent to Kurdistan Region of Iraq by their parents who wanted to save their lives. 
“My father sent us here to save our lives, many people left their parents and siblings; even children left their families because of the war. In situations like this, each person is out there on their own.” 
Suleiman’s family didn’t have the financial means to pay the expected amount smugglers would ask for to help them cross the border to Iraq. Suleiman had to pay US$ 600 for each of them to be able to reach the Iraq border. Like many Syrian refugees who fled under fire, Suleiman’s journey was not an easy experience. With no safe passages guaranteed for civilians to flee the conflict zone, the 18-year old Suleiman and his 14-year-old sister have seen dead bodies along the way.
“On our way, airstrikes hit somebody in front of my eyes, his head got ripped off his body. I could only see his head and the body was missing.”  
“In the same airstrike, a girl lost both of her legs and a hand; she was dead, and a woman lost the lower part of her body. What we saw on that night was terrifying.”

Photo: Karl Schembri/NRC
Read caption Suleiman, 18, and his younger sister were sent to northern Iraq by their parents who wanted to save their lives. Photo: Karl Schembri/NRC

Ali*, 25, an aid worker from Ayn Issa, also fled at this time. For Ali, the day the military operation began was a typical working day, until he received a phone call about an explosion in nearby Ras Al Ayn. A phone call that turned his life upside down.

“I was living a normal life in Syria working with displaced people during the day and going back to my home at night. I never thought that one day I will be displaced and seek refuge in another country.”
Read caption Aid worker Ali* talks through the route he took to reach safety in Iraq.

Help at the border crossing

Civilians fled with just the clothes of their backs, with nothing to eat or drink throughout the challenging journey. NRC was at the reception sites to provide new arrivals with drinking water and other basic items.

In the newly-established Syrian refugee camps, we have been distributing essential items for infants and ‘hygiene kits’ for families. We have also installed communal heaters in preparation for the cold winter months.

Read caption Karl Schembri, NRC's media adviser in the Middle East, at one of the reception sites in northern Iraq for newly arrived Syria refugees.

For those with no option but to remain in the camp, we have established an informal school so that children have a place to learn and look toward the future.

Read our full report about the situation for Syrian refugees in northern Iraq.

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