DAMASCUS – The World Food Programme (WFP) announced that more than 70,000 people have already fled the escalating violence since Turkey launched its military operation into northern Syria on Wednesday. The mass displacement occurred in the Al-Hasake and Al-Raqqa provinces, a spokesman for the United Nations’ agency said in Geneva, reminding the warring parties that the UN requires access to 650,000 people in northeast Syria who rely on food aid.
Turkey stepped up its air and artillery strikes on Kurdish militia in northeast Syria on Friday on the third day of a military operation against Kurds, escalating an offensive that has drawn warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe. Meanwhile, a camp sheltering more than 7,000 displaced people in northern Syria is to be evacuated and talks are underway about moving a second camp for 13,000 people including families of ISIL (known as ISIS or Daesh) fighters after both were hit by shelling, the Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria said on Friday.
In a statement, the Kurdish-led administration announced the camps at Mabrouka and Ain Issa had “not been immune from the dangers” of the Turkish offensive. The camp at Mabrouka, 12 km from the Turkish border, would be evacuated and the people sheltering there moved to al-Arisha camp south of Hasaka city, it said, adding that the second camp at Ain Issa is holding 785 relatives of ISIL militants.
“Discussion is underway with the relevant bodies and organization to find a solution or alternative location to move the camp to,” it stated.
Meanwhile, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the Turkish military campaign in northeast Syria has displaced civilians and led to the closure of some main hospitals there.
“With healthcare services already struggling to meet the needs of the population, displacement and injuries caused by fighting are likely to put additional pressure on the existing limited resources in hospitals,” Robert Onus, the MSF emergency manager for Syria, stated.
Shelling has forced a main MSF-supported hospital in the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad to close as most of the medical staff left the area with their families, the charity announced in a statement.
“As the only public hospital in the area, Tel Abyad hospital was critical to meeting the health needs of the town and surrounding areas,” it added.
The UN’s Refugee Agency had warned that Turkish military operations against Kurdish fighters are creating a new wave of displacement and could substantially intensify “what is already the largest displacement crisis in the world”. In a statement on Thursday, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on all sides to abide by international humanitarian law, and facilitate access for relief agencies helping those in need.
“Hundreds of thousands of civilians in Northern Syria are now in harm’s way, civilians and civilian infrastructure must not be a target,” UNHCR head Filippo Grandi warned.
He stressed the organization’s concern for those who are caught in the middle of hostilities, especially with seasonal “lower temperatures across the region” making it even more essential that humanitarian groups will be able to “reach those newly displaced and assist them wherever this is required”.