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Devastation Awaits Kobani Returnees

A screengrab of a video by the U.K.'s Department for International Development, telling the story of Warda, a 60-year-old grandmother who fled Kobani with her family.

A screengrab of a video by the U.K.'s Department for International Development, telling the story of Warda, a 60-year-old grandmother who fled Kobani with her family.

When 60-year-old Warda and her family fled the Islamic State group's advance on their hometown of Kobani in November, they could not take anything apart from the clothes on their backs.

"We left our houses, our belongings, our cars. The only things we managed to save were our children's souls," she said.

Warda's family owned several shops that sold televisions and phones, she said. The family also owned land and farms. All that was left behind when the family had to flee for their lives, crossing first into Turkey and then going on to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Warda's story, or part of it, is told in a video interview made in December by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID).

Two million people were displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014, according to DFID. The offensive by the Islamic State group in Kobani caused some 150,000 people to leave the town and its surrounding villages to flee to Turkey. There are different figures circulating for the number of internally displaced Syrians from Kobani, with Kurdish politicians saying that more than 200,000 have entered Turkey since September 2014.

The flood of internally displaced people from the area came after Islamic State militants executed hundreds of local residents, saying that they were infidels, the IS term for anyone who is not a Muslim.

Many families, like that of Warda, fled with nothing except the clothes they were wearing.

"No one would flee their home for joy," Warda said.

The family now live in a refugee camp in northern Iraq.

"When we first arrived, there was nothing here. We were desperate for almost everything...When we first arrived we were going to starve," she recalls. The family needed food, clothes and mattresses to sleep on.

As she lights a small kerosene lamp, Warda describes the cold she and her family have felt in the camp during the winter months. "I think we could die from this cold. Without kerosene neither people nor animals could survive this cold," she says

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, supplied the family with the basics -- sugar, rice, lentils, soap, and shampoo, Warda says.

"At least we can feed our children now," she adds.

WATCH: From Kobani to Kurdistan: Warda's Story

Since the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, backed by U.S.-led air strikes, pushed Islamic State militants out of Kobani in January, some refugees have started to return to the area.

An estimated 25,000 people have now returned to the region, but just as with the number of displaced persons, no one is certain of the exact number of returnees. What is certain, however, is that those who have returned have found their home town devastated by the fighting.

Anwar Muslim, the chairman of Kobani's city council, told Deutsche Welle on February 23 that over 70 percent of Kobani is destroyed and 40 percent is completely ruined, particularly in the southeast of the city.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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