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Road to Kurdish Camp Shows Misery, Desperation

April 15, 1991

ISIKVEREN, Turkey (AP) _ The road to the Isikveren refugee camp, home to more than 100,000 Iraqis, is six miles of mud, hunger and hopelessness.

The narrow, winding road is jammed with aid trucks stuck in the swamp-like muck, Kurds clutching cases of U.S. Army rations and women still wearing the nightgowns in which they fled Iraq.

A ride in a Turkish ambulance to the remote mountaintop camp, one of several huge refugee settlements along the border, provides a vivid picture of the Kurdish refugee problem.

It also illustrates the difficulty of providing aid in the area, where U.S. troops began arriving Sunday as part of Operation Provide Comfort.

As the ambulance sets out from the mobile hospital, the road fills with refugees coming from an adjacent mountainside, onto which a U.S. cargo plane has just dropped thousands of boxes of rations.

The lucky recipients of the Army’s chicken a la king and spaghetti and meatballs join a human stream perhaps a half-mile long returning from trucks delivering aid.

Kurdish men in black-and-white-checked headresses shoulder plastic bags of macaroni, elderly women drag white sacks of potatoes and one child clutches a new pair of boots.

As the ambulance passes, one man holds up a barefoot 2-year-old girl, and with a beseeching expression gestures to his mouth: the child is hungry. Another bangs on the ambulance, pointing to an old woman sitting on the ground, moaning and clutching her stomach.

But the vehicle continues on.

″We’ve got 50 people here dying a day,″ the driver says, shaking his head.

Around a bend, the camp appears. Thousands of blue, green and white tents cover the mountains, reaching nearly up to the snowline. Around them is a sea of rocks and the stumps of hundreds of trees that have been cut for the campfires around which families of 12 or 15 are huddling.

Clothing and the odd embroidered pillowcase from home hang from lines stretched from tents. Everywhere, people are sitting in the dirt, waiting.

Again, a traffic jam stops the ambulance.

It is the third jam on the twisting mountainside road, which is flooded at one point by runoff from the mountain and is too narrow to allow two-way truck passage. This time, the culprit is a tractor, which has just pulled a truck out of the mud.

The road is typical of routes aid vehicles must travel to reach the refugees in the wild, desolate border area of Turkey.

Finally, the ambulance is able to return its two occupants to their families. They are a girl suffering a gunshot wound inflicted by Iraqi troops, and 23-year-old Afof Hajin, who had had a miscarriage on the cold mountain the previous night.

″I am very afraid,″ she said, as her 3-year-old daughter whimpered at her feet. ″There is no water, no food.″

Actually, many of the refugees appeared to have received some food, but they said it was not enough.

″The sky is very cold. The meat is only a little. The milk for the children is only a little,″ said Nuri Zenal Fatah, 25, one of a group of Iraqis who surrounded a reporter, mistaking her for a doctor.

Asked about his future, he muttered, ″I don’t have a future.″

The ambulance, making the camp’s last medical run of the day, picks up only one occupant: a terfied 20-year-old Iraqi woman about to give birth.

The ambulance soon gets stuck - this time, facing an aid truck carrying milk. Refugees are swarming all over the vehicle, stuffing the cartons of goods down their shirts and jackets.

After the ambulance moves slowly around the milk truck, the driver turns to the pregnant woman and her husband.

″What do you need - boys or girls?″ he asks.

″Boys or girls - no problem,″ the husband replies, breaking into a smile.

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