‘We’re the Forgotten People,’ Say Kurds Who See No Relief Aid With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
PANJWIN, Northern Iraq (AP) _ ″We need food. We need medicine. Why don’t you give us some? Our people are dying,″ pleaded Laleh, a young Kurd grieving over a child’s freshly dug grave. Beside it, 19 more children were buried.
Western aid may be pouring in for Iraqi Kurds massed along the Turkish border, but none has reached the tens of thousands of refugees camped at this guerrilla stronghold 15 miles from Iraq’s border with Iran.
″We’re the forgotten people. We’ve received nothing yet,″ Laleh said in broken English. Beside her at the roadside gravesite sat other grieving women. Beating their breasts and rocking back and forth, they mourned children and grandchildren buried the past 48 hours.
Dr. Ahwaz Kamal, a pediatrician, wrung her hands in despair as she stood outside a makeshift hospital set up in a tent on Panjwin’s mountainous terrain. Much of Panjwin, a rebel stronghold in northern Iraq, was destroyed by Iraqi troops in 1988.
Surveying about 100 women, each cuddling an ailing infant as they waited for treatment, she asked wearily: ″What can I do?″
″Children are dying every day. They come to me expecting to be cured and there’s nothing I can do for them,″ said Kamal. ″About 250 mothers bring their sick children to the tent every day for treatment, and about a dozen babies ... die every day.″
Most of the children suffer from diarrhea, dehydration and gastroenteritis, but there is no medicine to treat them.
″This is a desperate situation. We hear on the radio of foreign relief aid reaching refugee camps in Turkey or along the Turkish border, as well as inside Iran. But none has reached us,″ Kamal said.
As the sun set Thursday behind crenelated mountain ridges to the west, four men walked silently, one cradling a small bundle in his arms.
The man sobbed quietly as he and relatives buried his 2-year-old son. They hacked a shallow pit in the rocky ground, gently laid the tiny body in it, then covered it with flat rocks and earth.
For the Kurds who have trekked across mountains seeking sanctuary from loyalist Iraqi troops who crushed their rebellion last month, such scenes have become routine. Few of the refugees, each locked in his own personal cocoon of misery, give the funerals a second glance.
A week ago, Panjwin was a base for several hundred turbanned guerrillas, known as peshmergas, or ″those who face death.″
The fighters had taken their families to the Iranian border to wait to be allowed to cross to refugee camps. Then they joined the hit-and-run war being waged against Saddam’s Republican Guard divisions.
Now, as the greatest exodus in the Kurds’ turbulent history swells, there are an estimated 100,000 refugees in and around Panjwin.
Many have returned in recent days from the squalor of the Shiler Valley camps close to the Iranian border, where about 500,000 Kurds are living in desperate conditions. But life is just as harsh here.
Refugees in Panjwin live in makeshift shelters made of clear plastic sheets or blankets stretched over poles for protection from the cold and rain.
Thousands have crawled under the collapsed concrete roofs of Panjwin’s ruined buildings for shelter.
The only aid reaching the refugees are parcels of bread and dates provided by Iranian Kurds. The food is trucked in along a dirt road winding from the border and distributed by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Rebel officials said the deliveries were interrupted briefly after one Iraqi refugee was run over and killed by a truck during the bedlam that erupts every time a food truck appears.
The honking horns of the trucks as they wind down the mountain road trigger wild stampedes by refugees who pour out of tents.
Within minutes, the trucks are surrounded by refugees, who claw over each other to grab whatever they can. The trucks don’t stop because they’d be mobbed if they did. They cruise slowly down the road, while the Iranian troops fling food parcels into the crowds.