Urgent help needed as Afrin IDP numbers top 167,000
Humanitarian agencies are struggling to meet the health and aid needs of the civilian population of Afrin as the number of people recently displaced due to Turkey’s offensive climbs to an estimated 167,000. Concerns have also been raised for the security of the thousands who remain in the canton.
“Children, women, and men have undertaken harrowing journeys to flee Afrin and need urgent health assistance. Our staff have met civilians who reported walking for 36 hours to reach safer areas,” said Elizabeth Hoff, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Syria.
People arriving at shelters have described “running in the face of shelling, sleeping in the open, being separated from their families,” according to Marixie Mercado, a spokesperson for the UN children’s agency, AFP reported.
An estimated 167,000 people have been displaced due to hostilities in Afrin and between 50,000 and 70,000 civilians have remained in the city, Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
Theft and looting has continued in Afrin, the UK-based conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, and water and electricity utilities have not resumed regular service.
Turkish officials have stated they would investigate reports of looting by members of Syrian militias.
The Observatory also reported some arrests of tens of people who had remained in Afrin, noting that they have been subject to insults and humiliation in detention centres.
Most of those fleeing Turkey’s onslaught on Afrin have sought shelter in Tal Rifaat, still under Kurdish YPG control, and smaller numbers have crossed into territory under control of pro-regime forces around the villages of Nubl and al-Zahra.
The WHO has sent four mobile health teams to these three areas and has a second shipment of medical supplies ready to send to Tal Rifaat and Afrin “once access is granted,” it stated on Friday.
The medical aid agency is also seeking to assist civilians remaining in Afrin city and surrounding areas now under control of Turkish forces and their Syrian allies. WHO is working with partners in Turkey to help boost cross-border services.
However, the aid that has been provided is insufficient, the Observatory stated, estimating that more than 300,000 people have been displaced, many of whom are suffering under poor weather conditions, sleeping in the open because of a lack of tents.
Some people have tried to reach Aleppo city, the monitor stated, but are being charged as much as $1,000 per person at checkpoints manned by pro-regime forces. Some are resorting to paying smugglers.
Inside Afrin, just one of four hospitals is still functioning, WHO stated, adding that it plans to ship supplies and medicines to the facility next week and is organizing a vaccination campaign.
Aid agencies have expressed concern about accessing Afrin since it came under Turkish control.
“We cannot access Afrin as it’s an occupied region,” Ali al-Zatari, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Syria, said this week, adding that daily attempts to reach the region are underway.
Turkish aid agencies have delivered aid to Afrin civilians, though the Observatory alleged that the aid is being handed out for the benefit of the media, “while behind the cameras and in the scattered and remote villages in Afrin countryside, [this] humanitarian aid was sold at high prices to merchants and shop owners.”
Turkish troops and allied Syrian militias announced control of Afrin city, the largest urban centre in the Kurdish canton, on Sunday.
Clashes continue throughout Afrin canton, with the Kurdish forces carrying out several attacks as part of its guerrilla-style campaign of resistance, according to local reports.