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Uprooted by war, Kurdish families stuck at Syria-Iraq border crossing

People are being carried in the trunk of a truck as residents continue returning home after Tal Abyad city center was cleared from PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, and Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey regards as a terror group, within Turkey's Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, in Tal Abyad, Syria on 17 October, 2019 [Omer Alven/Anadolu Agency]
People are being carried in the trunk of a truck as residents continue returning home after Tal Abyad city center was cleared from PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, and Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey regards as a terror group, within Turkey's Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, in Tal Abyad, Syria on 17 October, 2019 [Omer Alven/Anadolu Agency]

Made homeless when Turkish shells slammed into his house in northern Syria, Kurdish day labourer Suleiman Mohamed and his family spent 10 days in desperate search of shelter nearby, reports Reuters.

Now all they want is to reach neighbouring Iraq.

They are among at least 160,000 Syrian Kurds that the United Nations says fled their homes following the start of a Turkish assault on northeastern Syria. His hometown of Ras al-Ain was one of the targets hit in Turkish airstrikes.

The advance began shortly after US President Donald Trump announced his forces were withdrawing from the area, giving Ankara more room to pursue its Syrian Kurdish militia enemies without the risk of clashing directly with the Americans.

Mohammed has been moving from town to town in the northeast, sleeping in schools packed with other displaced people. At one point he tried to rent a house before giving up and heading to the border with Iraq.

READ: 100 people escape camp holding Daesh relatives

Some 5,000 have made it across the border in the past week, aid groups said on Monday. Many use smugglers paying up to $1,500 per family, some of those who made to camps on the Iraqi side of the border told Reuters last week.

But those lacking cash like Mohamed got stuck, sitting with a dozen other displaced people on the road next to the border checkpoint of Semalka. The Kurdish force controlling the area was only letting through the wounded, not families in general.

“Our house is gone. We tried to stay in schools in Tel Tamir but there is no space while renting an apartment in Qamshibli cost 50,000 Iraqi dinars ($42 a month) which I don’t have,” the 40-year old said, standing next to his wife and two young children.

“Smugglers take $500 which I cannot pay,” he said. “I’m ready to go anywhere, Europe, abroad. We don’t have a place to stay here anymore.”

Authorities have kept the border crossing open for humanitarian shipments, trade, diplomats, and journalists, but when the offensive started they stopped private trips to visit relatives on the other side of the border, said Kamiran Hassan, head of the local Kurdish immigration and passport department.

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