1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Kobani refugees begin to return home after 'IS' defeat

Kamal Sheikho, KobaniFebruary 23, 2015

Now that "Islamic State" fighters have been pushed out of Kobani, the first refugees are crossing over the Turkish border to return to the destroyed city - and those Syrians who stayed. Kamal Sheikho reports from Kobani.

Rückkehr des Lebens im zerstörten Kobane
Image: DW/Kamal Sheikho

Kaban made a habit of climbing the hill of Masta al Nur every day. From there, he had a good view over to the northern Syrian border town of Kobani. Five months ago, driven by fear of the Islamic State militia, he and his family fled Kobani for the neighboring city of Suruç, just across the border in Turkey. Like many other refugees, he and his family found shelter at the Erin Mir Khan camp. But in his mind, he remained in Kobani.

As soon as the word spread that Kurdish fighters had won the town back, Kaban returned - on his own. The restaurateur wanted to see what had become of his house and his business, and find out if it was safe for his family to return. They soon did. "We have just come back to our lives, despite the destruction of my house and my restaurant," he told DW.

The Turkish organization responsible for refugees, AFAD, estimates that some 183,000 people fled Kobani. But there are differing figures circulating. Kurdish politicians have put the number of refugees who have entered Turkey since September 16, 2014, at more than 200,000.

The number of returnees to Kobani is currently estimated at 25,000, but nobody really knows for sure. What they do know is that it will be years, even decades, before the city can return to normal.

Rückkehr des Lebens im zerstörten Kobane
Seventy percent of Kobani lies in ruinsImage: DW/Kamal Sheikho

Picture of devastation

It's not just Kaban's neighborhood that is in ruins; most of the city suffered similar devastation. "Kobani has an area of about seven square kilometers. Seventy percent of it is destroyed, and 40 percent is completely ruined, particularly in the southeastern part of the city," said Anwar Muslim, chairman of Kobani's executive council.

"The IS jihadists blew up 27 vehicles filled with explosives and launched more than 110 mortar shells," he said. "And there were frequent suicide bombings." He added that the city has not yet received any financial support for reconstruction.

Traveling through Kobani today, the destruction is clearly visible. Many of the houses are in ruins, and the pressure from explosions blew the doors and windows out of the buildings that are still standing.

Rückkehr des Lebens im zerstörten Kobane
Bakers provide bread to residents for freeImage: DW/Kamal Sheikho

Bakery helps people survive

The fact that life is returning to this inhospitable environment is due to the pragmatism of Kobani's residents. At the beginning of the siege, IS fighters destroyed the city's main bread factory. But the city's bakers did not accept defeat; instead, they improvised. To sustain civilians and those fighting against IS, they quickly set up a new factory in a secure location. The bread they bake there is distributed to residents free of charge.

Asis Murad oversees the work at the bakery, and sees his and the other bakers' work as a form of resistance. "Those who fight for us at the front have to have bread to eat. We are all defending Kobani," he said. His co-worker Ali has just returned from Turkey alone, without his family. "When I decided to come back, it was with the clear intention of serving the people of my city. If I have to, I will take up arms to do so," he said.

The people of Kobani know all of the bakers. During the battles, they would hand out bread from secure locations, far away from the line of fire. A vehicle would pick up the baked goods and transport them to the front. These same people are now helping refugees stuck in the border region between Turkey and Syria by donating bread.

Rückkehr des Lebens im zerstörten Kobane
Dr Mohammed Aref Ali remained in Kobani despite the dangerImage: DW/Kamal Sheikho

Fearful doctors

The only hospital remaining in the city doesn't have much to offer its patients. All the injured are treated for free. Doctors also regularly visit civilians living in Kobani, offering help to those who need it. A delegation of doctors ventures out each day to the areas of Schair and Marsamila, where refugees have been waiting out the conflict in the border zone. They distribute medicine and examine the sick.

Dr Mohammed Aref Ali is part of the team of doctors. He decided to remain in his city despite the war, and this has been his first experience practicing medicine in such conditions. "When I hear the noises coming from the planes and the shells, it's scary," he told DW. "But when I think of the civilians or fighters who could be injured, I no longer feel fear, I just want to help them medically."