Iran Begins Aid to Kurds Inside Iraq : Refugees: Helicopters violate airspace to help feed crush of people leaving the country. In a Turkish camp, thousands pillage supply tents.
Iranian helicopters have begun dumping food supplies inside Iraq to famished Kurdish refugees, Iranian officials revealed Saturday.
Although the helicopters are technically violating Iraqi air space, an Iranian provincial official said the move was a humanitarian effort to feed Kurds trapped in long traffic jams on roads leading out of Iraq into Iran.
On another troubled frontier, that of Iraq with Turkey, thousands of desperate Kurdish refugees overran a Turkish army camp, pillaging tents full of food.
Reuters news agency reported that nearly 2,000 refugees from Iraq scrambled and sprinted down a steep slope at the mountain camp of Isikveren where they are confined by the Turkish army. They ignored shots Turkish soldiers fired first into the air, then repeatedly at their feet.
“We cannot stop them,” an army officer said. “They are no longer afraid. They have been here 13 days and my soldiers are tired.”
On the plus side, food and medicine is now arriving, and more is on the way.
The Associated Press reported that U.S. relief planes dropped tons of food and blankets to Iraqi refugees along the Turkish-Iraqi frontier Saturday. At the U.S.-Turkish base at Incirlik, American crews worked around the clock to bundle up food, blankets and tents for the refugees. During one seven-hour period, U.S. relief flights were taking off at 10-minute intervals.
More than 60 Turkish doctors and nurses now treat the sick in recently erected hospital tents at Isikveren, and the French-based medical relief organization Physicians Without Frontiers has set up a clinic in the camp.
Here at this center in northwestern Iran, near the point where the Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish borders meet, reports indicated that the plight of Kurds fleeing into Iran is worst on eastbound roads farther south of here. These include the road from Halabja, an Iraqi Kurdish city that Baghdad bombed with poison gas several years ago, through Paveh, inside Iran.
One refugee camp along that road, about three miles east of the Iraqi border, was called by the Paveh area governor “the worst in Iran.”
An observer there said the camp was a “real horror,” with fathers digging graves for children in the high foothills of the Zagros Mountains.
Only two or three Iranian helicopters were available for the airdrop in the region, officials said, and Kurdish spokesmen became increasingly critical of the United Nations for failing to mount a relief effort more quickly.
A leading member of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Iran, Siyamend Banna, declared Saturday:
“The poorest city in Iran is doing a job many times better than the U.N. people who have been living on adrenaline for the past two weeks and are now at the end of their tether. Food that is arriving is seized by the people at the head of the line and never gets to those in the back. After 10 days, people are losing their will to live.”
Kurdish cars are lined up at least a dozen miles on roads leading into Iran. There is little local food available to the stalled refugees because Iraq has systematically destroyed Kurdish mountain villages during the last few years.
Late Saturday, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata of Japan, arrived in Tehran to assess the situation and, she said, “accelerate” the transport of relief supplies.
She said U.N. agencies had pre-positioned supplies for about 35,000 refugees but the current “massive influx” caught them unprepared.
Ogata estimated that the number of Kurdish refugees in Iran now totals 700,000 and added that during the past three weeks only 30 or more relief planes had arrived in this country.
However, she said four more were expected in the next few hours and arrangements have been made for 40 more supply-laden aircraft to come.
The commissioner admitted that although the Iranian government is cooperating, there are administrative delays in getting the supplies from incoming planes to the needy Kurds up in the mountains.
Omar Bakhet, Tehran’s representative in the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner, said: “There’s a delay in moving goods, a lot of bureaucratic things, a question of access to airports. Unless these are resolved, what will happen with 40 to 100 planes coming in, when we are faced with such difficulties in clearing only one or two planes?”
Bakhet said that never before had there been a case of 700,000 refugees moving from one country into a neighbor in the space of only four or five days.
The Tehran daily newspaper Kayhan on Saturday declared: “The exodus marks the swiftest and largest refugee migration in history.”
The newspaper also said this country expects that 2.2 million of the nearly 4 million Kurds who lived in Iraq before the Persian Gulf War will have fled that country in the next two weeks, with 1 million of them coming to Iran. The paper said Iran is the world’s largest host country to refugees, claiming that of 17 million refugees in the world, 4.2 million, or 25%, in this country, have come from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some French relief planes with supplies destined for the border region landed at the major city of Tabriz, rather than here at Urmieh much closer to the scene.
The supplies, therefore, had to be trucked overland, a journey of more than a day under present road conditions.
Difficulties in getting local permits and transport have delayed French medical teams trying to reach the Iranian refugee areas to treat the sick.
One group of 15 doctors, 10 nurses and 15 medical technicians spent 24 hours at a hotel at Urmieh waiting for the authority and the vehicles to move to the campsites.
The president of the Hellenic Red Cross, Gerassimos Apostolatos, who arrived here Friday with four Greek nurses, visited two refugee camps near Iran’s border with Turkey, one with 20,000 refugees and the other with 35,000. These are the newest of 26 emergency camps set up by Iran for the Kurds in the last few days.
Preparing to depart by a Greek Air Force C-130 cargo transport Saturday at the Urmieh airport, one nurse said:
“It’s a desperate situation. There’s no sanitation. There’s very little food. There are a lot of barefoot children around with the temperatures near freezing. But the Iranians are trying hard to get supplies and tents for the Kurds.”
Apostolatos added that “there must be a political solution. It is impossible to help 2 million refugees. They must be part of a political solution.”
Those views were stated in different fashion by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who declared in a message to the United Nations: “We need a credible alternative to the exodus--U.N. guarantees for the safety and honor of the refugee population.”
On Friday, Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani called the refugees “a world problem” and asked all the nations in the world to help Iran to deal with it.