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Thousands reported stranded after fleeing Afrin conflict

Updated: Sep 11, 2018


Hundreds of thousands of civilians who fled the Turkish-offensive on the Syrian city of Afrin in the last few days are now stranded on roads and villages between the embattled city and government controlled Aleppo with little access to food, water, medication and shelter, according to aid workers. 

On Tuesday, 14 trucks carrying 25 metric tonnes of humanitarian aid were delivered to an estimated 75,000 displaced people in the village of Tal Rifaat, about an hours drive west from Afrin, who fled as Turkish and their allied Syrian rebel forces took the center of the city. 

Turkey was on a campaign to clear the north-western Syrian city of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, the YPG, who they say are allied with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which they deem a terrorist organization.

While the U.S. is not operating in or directly involved with YPG forces in Afrin, it does share a base with the fighters, which they support in the battle against ISIS, in the northern city of Manbij, Syria. 

On Monday, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. is “committed to our NATO ally Turkey” and their “legitimate security concerns,” but that the fighting in Afrin has “distracted from the Defeat ISIS campaign and provided opportunity for ISIS to begin reconstituting in some areas.” 

The U.S. also echoed calls for Turkey, Russia and the Syrian regime to allow access to humanitarian aid for thousands of civilians. International rights groups have condemned Turkey for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Afrin and the targeting of schools, hospitals, medical staff and aid workers. 

“In the city of Afrin, which was captured by Turkish forces yesterday, scores of civilians have been killed and injured due to airstrikes, ground-based strikes, and explosive hazards, and thousands have been displaced,” said Reid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement to the U.N. security council on Monday. On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned “in the strongest terms” Turkey’s offensive on Afrin, Reuters reported. 

Around 29,000 people from Afrin, which is predominantly Kurdish, fled to neighboring villages of Zahraa and Nubol. The U.N. estimates that 10,000 people are stranded at Az-Ziyara. Those who managed to flee the city did so in cars and on foot, many with only the clothes on their back with little food, water and medical care.  

“A UNHCR team was on the ground in Nubol yesterday where they heard stories of their exhausting journey, walking long hours through the mountains,” said Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson of the UN refugee agency, in a statement.

No shelter

There is little to no shelter Hevi Mustafa, a top member of the Kurdish civil authority in Afrin, told Reuters on Monday, as the exodus began.

“The people with cars are sleeping in the cars, the people without are sleeping under the trees with their children,” he said.

The ICRC, working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has supplied blankets, mattresses and daily essentials and are working to scale up deliveries of medical supplies water and meals over the coming days. The humanitarian organization furthered the call to allow relief workers access to vulnerable civilians both fleeing on the road and in now Turkish-controlled Afrin. 

On February 24, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted “in favor” of a month-long ceasefire in Syria on all fronts, except the ongoing war against Islamic State militants, to allow for access for humanitarian aid. 

Regime forces backed by Russia have been on an offensive against rebels in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus and has, in part, allowed for civilians to exit through humanitarian corridors, after bombing campaigns killed over 200 civilians, according to CNN. 

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