Kobane rebuilding efforts strained by major challenges

Thousands of residents have returned to Kobane after fleeing ISIL one year ago, but their future remains uncertain.

Some of the Kobane residents who were displaced to Turkey after the ISIL offensive last year have returned home through the Mursitpinar border crossing [Akhtin Asaad/Al Jazeera]
Some of the Kobane residents who were displaced to Turkey after the ISIL offensive last year have returned home through the Mursitpinar border crossing [Akhtin Asaad/Al Jazeera]

Kobane, Syria and Erbil, Iraq – Adla, 65, sits in front of her partially demolished house on the southern side of the northern Syrian town of Kobane.

She is one of the nearly 100,000 people who local authorities say have returned to Kobane, out of nearly half a million who fled the town and its surrounding area amid a major assault by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in September 2014.

Last January, ISIL forces were expelled from Kobane by a coalition of local Kurdish forces, assisted by a United States-led alliance, Iraqi Kurds and Syrian rebels. But ISIL fighters infiltrated Kobane again in June, massacring more than 200 people, mostly civilians.

“We are still afraid that they might return in some way,” Adla told Al Jazeera. “The situation is not totally reliable … We have become miserable here.”

Like many others in Kobane, Adla has paid heavily for defending this largely destroyed town, losing a son and grandson in the process. Apart from a dire need for basic services such as drinking water, electricity and healthcare, Kobane residents now live in fear of their uncertain future in a country ravaged by conflict.

Adla, a Kobane resident who lost a son and grandson in the fight to defend Kobane, sits in front of her partly demolished home [Akhtin Asaad/Al Jazeera]
When ISIL forces launched a major assault on Kobane one year ago, almost all civilians in the besieged town and its countryside left for neighbouring Turkey. When ISIL was expelled, many gradually returned, only to find many parts of their town razed to the ground.

With a bloody civil war raging between multiple groups in Syria today, along with a lack of funds and outside aid, rebuilding the border town has not been a priority.

There is nothing in here, no electricity, no water, nothing. It's ruins all around us here, and none of our neighbours are back.

Jamil, 55, resident of Kobane

Jamil, 55, used to be a construction worker before ISIL’s attack on Kobane last year. But Jamil, who lost a son while they fought to defend the town, is now part of the local Kurdish forces protecting Kobane. He lives with his family of seven in this border town.

“There is nothing in here, no electricity, no water, nothing,” Jamil told Al Jazeera. “It’s ruins all around us here, and none of our neighbours are back.”

Local officials say they are determined to rebuild Kobane, but given the extent of the destruction and the limited resources at their disposal, they cannot do it alone, they say.

“Given that Kobane became the symbol of resistance against ISIL, we expected the international community to assist greatly with its reconstruction, as 70 percent of the town was destroyed as a result of the fighting and bombardments by the international coalition,” Idris Naasan, a spokesperson for the committee in charge of rebuilding Kobane, told Al Jazeera.

“But that has not been the case, unfortunately. We’ve received help only from international organisations for issues such as demining and medical assistance.”

RELATED: Kobane: The beginning of the end for ISIL

According to Nassan, the local administration has started building around 1,300 apartment units for those whose homes were completely razed. Around 3,200 homes were completely or partially destroyed as a result of the fighting, he said, noting the town still relies largely on donations from Kurds in the region, particularly Turkey, and the diaspora. Rebuilding Kobane to pre-war levels will require up to $1.5bn, he said.

Adnan Mustafa, a physician and head of the local Amal Hospital in Kobane, said there is a dire need for advanced medical equipment for cardiac care and CT scanning, as well as medicine for heart disease and diabetes. Many locals have consequently sought treatment in neighbouring Turkey.

“We’ve suffered a lot, but have now reached a level to be able to operate again,” Mustafa told Al Jazeera. “There was a point last winter when we had to expel the patients here because we did not have fuel to warm the hospital.”

Local authorities have also been struggling to accommodate students for the new school year. Of the town’s 25 schools, almost all were demolished. Of those, authorities have hastily repaired seven. Kobane is still largely in ruins, with rubble strewn all over.

Kobane children play with bullet casings left behind after the five-month battle between ISIL and various Kurdish and Syrian rebel forces [Akhtin Asaad/Al Jazeera]
Along with Jazira in Hasakah province and Afrin in Aleppo, Kobane is one of the three Kurdish self-ruled cantons in northern Syria. After the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and allied Syrian rebel forces seized the town of Tal Abyad from ISIL in June, Kobane and Jazira became connected, with a freer flow of goods to Kobane.

Turkey opens its border with Kobane to local residents twice a week, during which time Kobane refugees in Turkey can return to their town, local authorities say. But those already back in Kobane cannot re-enter Turkey, except for serious medical treatment.

Faced with the destruction of their hometown, many Kobane residents are now embarking on the perilous sea voyage to Europe. In early September, three members of a Kobane family drowned in the Aegean sea.

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“Our people want to leave for Europe and are ready to even die in the seas,” Radwan, a 25-year-old Kobane resident, told Al Jazeera. “That’s what is important to the majority of them.”

Of all the challenges they currently face, residents say security is the most serious. After ISIL’s recent infiltration into Kobane, the local administration dug a large trench on the eastern side of the town on the road to Tal Abyad.

Kobane authorities have also set up a force, which they are calling the Intrinsic Defence Force, comprised of civilians who have agreed to serve as guards for their neighbourhoods.

But Radwan complained that some locals have not taken their role in protecting their town seriously, only agreeing to do guard shifts if paid by the local administration.

“In our street, only three of us go to Mishtenur hill to take guarding shifts: me, my father and another man,” he said.

Despite all the challenges, Dijla, 22, said she was determined to remain in Kobane.

“Our homes are destroyed, but it’s fine,” she said. “I’m not afraid. My brothers are now taking guard shifts.”

 Many houses were damaged or destroyed during the fighting between ISIL and local Kurdish forces [Akhtin Asaad/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera


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