Santa Barbara News-Press

Friday, May 24, 1991

Local Man Details Scenes of Death Among Refugees
By I.P. Weston
News-Press Staff Writer

Nearly a million Kurds returning from Iranian refugee camps to their homeland in Iraq are facing deadly epidemics of typhoid fever and cholera, a Santa Barbara photojournalist who returned from the Middle East said this week.

While refugee camps within the Allied Security Zone along the northern Turkish-Iraqi border are getting adequate medical supplies and attention from Western relief agencies, other refugees caught in a no man's land along the northern Iraqi-Iran border are getting no supplies and virtuality no medical help, photojournalist Kevin McKiernan told the News-Press.

"These are the people you don't see on television," he said.  "There are no journalists here."

McKiernan entered Iraq illegally - escorted by Kurdish guerrillas - from Turkey to visit the war-ravaged Iraqi border towns of Diana and Rawanduz.

Rumors of an epidemic in these towns outside the Allied Security Zone - a 100-mile stretch of land in the extreme northern part of Iraq bordering Turkey - reached McKiernan in Iran.

Thousands of refugees are traveling by foot and trucks along Hamilton Road, a main thoroughfare between Iran and Iraq that passes through Diana and Rawanduz.  Because this route lies outside the security zone, Western relief agencies have no clear authority to airlift supplies into the region.

A roadside river used for drinking water, contaminated with bacteria, has caused an outbreak of typhoid, cholera and diarrhea, McKiernan said.

One young boy, videotaped by McKiernan near the border, screamed with pain and bit his fist as dirty dressing were removed from legs mangled by an Iraqi land mine.

"Many children with diarrhea look for a place to relieve themselves off the road...then they just step on a mine," said German physician Michael Ollefs, who entered Iraq illegally with another doctor to set up a makeshift clinic 40-miles east of Diana.

Ollefs said many of the hundreds of children he's treating are doomed unless they get anti-typhoid and anti-cholera medication.

Kurdish physician Rafiz Ahmed - overwhelmed with patients in a Diana hospital without running water and occasional electricity - told McKiernan he has resorted to treating his patients with ampicillin, a low-grade penicillin that is largely useless against typhoid and cholera.

"If we get efficient treatment, then these people will thrive," Ahmed said inside the hospital where patients were doubled up in beds and on the floor.  Rows of Kurdish mothers spoon-feeding mash to malnourished toddlers gazed into McKiernan's camera from the floor.

"This is the real story of the Persian Gulf War," McKiernan said.  "Children dying.  Hamilton Road is lined with their graves.  I saw one gravesite of 39 people.  I counted.  Twenty-five of them were children."

Direct Relief International of Santa Barbara has sent more than 12 tons of donated medical goods to the Persian Gulf since 120,000 Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait City Aug. 2.

Now the non-profit organization wants to get medical supplies to Diana and Rawanduz.  DRI President Ann Carlos said the supplies are ready to go, but getting them into Iraq will be tricky.

"We can probably get into Silopi, Turkey, no problem," she said Thursday.  "But then we have to cross over into Iraq.  The most recent we need to get from Silopi into Zhaku, a still disputed territory on the Iraqi side of the border.  It's a five-minute helicopter ride, but we're not sure the U.S. military will fly in there."

Camps in Diana and Rawanfuz "need specialized anti-biotics, IV solution, solutions for dehydration, syringes, dressings, sutures, gauze, tape, anesthetic to dull pain - they don't have any of these things," Carlos said.

An estimated 170,000 refugee children are expected to die within the next several months, she added.  But with antibiotics, Ahmed said he could save 75 percent.  Without drugs, 90 percent of his patients will die, he added.

McKiernan - whose pictures and interviews from the camps were used by CBS News and Time Magazine - said that during his eight-day trek along Hamilton road, he saw no other journalists.

"I really began to see what was going on in this area," he said.  "It looked a bit like the end of the world.  Burning garbage, an acrid awful smell, helmets left behind on the roadside by retreating Iraqi troops, demolished buildings, wrecked cars.  It looked like something out of the 'Road Warrior'."




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