Suruc, Turkey: The fierce battle for the Syrian border town of Kobani is over, but for refugees in Turkey desperate to return home, the massive destruction and ongoing fighting means they still must wait.
“We all want to go home. But go home to what?” asked one woman in tears, who like many others experienced short-lived euphoria after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) recaptured the town Monday from Daesh fighters.
But shortly after the shooting ended in a battle that observers say killed 1,800 fighters — including some 1,200 from Daesh — the word got back to Turkey that Kobani lay in ruins.
Proof of the intensity of the four-month battle stood everywhere — buildings pounded to dust by coalition air strikes and shelling, cars torched, and unexploded explosives strewn in the street.
“Our heritage is our most valuable possession. But in the current conditions, returning home is simply impossible to imagine,” said 36-year-old Cemile Hassan through sobs.
“Frankly I’d be happy if we could be home in a year. But I’m optimistic in saying that, because we’re going to have to rebuild everything,” she added.
The ferocious fighting sent some 200,000 people fleeing across the border into Turkey, which has been working to move hundreds of refugees from Kobani to a new camp in the southeastern border town of Suruc able to accommodate up to 35,000 people.
For now it is impossible to cross back into Syria as police and soldiers have sealed the crossing near Kobani until further notice, Turkey’s border security agency said.
Turkish security forces on Tuesday fired tear gas and water cannons to push back people approaching the barbed wire fence that marks the line between the two countries.
On top of the devastation in Kobani, refugees would face the prospect of a flare-up of fighting or bombing should they return.
On Wednesday, clashes with Daesh fighters were reported near Kobani in villages where coalition planes were bombing the militants.
The United States said Tuesday that Kurdish fighters were in control of about 90 per cent of the town.
But a State Department official warned that the militants were “adaptive and resilient” and no one was declaring “mission accomplished” yet.
Stera Hussain, holding her two-week-old child in her arms, said she already had to flee for her life at a moment’s notice.
“It was horrible. The YPG (Kurdish militia) told us for days that everything was fine, that they guaranteed our safety,” she said. “And then suddenly they told us to leave within the hour without being able to take anything with us.”
She added: “Our lives were saved, but we lost everything.”
And even if she were allowed to go home immediately, she would think twice before crossing back into Syria.
“I don’t know if I should trust the YPG any more,” she said. “They misled us once and we almost paid with our lives.”