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Humanitarian Tragedy in Syria’s Afrin

Humanitarian Tragedy in Syria’s Afrin

Thursday, 15 March, 2018 - 07:00
Syrian civilians flee Afrin in northern Syria on March 13, 2018. AFP

With Turkish-led forces nearly surrounding Syria's Afrin city, some panicked residents are attempting to flee, others are stocking food fearing a siege, and Kurdish fighters are digging in for a tough fight.

Since January 20, Ankara and allied Syrian rebels have pressed an air and ground offensive that has brought them to the edges of Afrin, held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Already overwhelmed by an influx of displaced families that has strained water and electricity networks, residents of Afrin are bracing for what's next.

"We're afraid of what will happen if the Turks enter Afrin," says Almas Bakr, 23, who took refuge in the city from a heavily shelled border area.  

"Our hearts are crying -- Afrin doesn't deserve this,” Bakr told Agence France Presse.

The urban center is now home to around 350,000 people, after its population swelled with thousands fleeing their homes since the start of the assault.

The single road linking Afrin to the rest of the northwestern region of the same name is coming under heavy fire. 

Hundreds have tried to flee, with cars and buses piled high with rugs, crates, and suitcases lining up to leave the town -- to no avail. 

Inside, people are rushing to purchase non-perishable food, preparing for the possibility of a Turkish siege of the city. 

Water to Afrin town has been cut for a week, the United Nations said on Wednesday, after Turkish troops seized the main dam and water plant in the region.

The UN office for humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said the fighting has forced thousands of people to flee their homes within the Afrin region and towards regime territory.

After the dam northeast of Afrin town changed hands, "local workers were unable to access the dam controls to pump water. The water supply has been cut off," OCHA said.

Residents have relied on untreated water from boreholes and risk contracting diseases, it added, according to Reuters.

Sultana, 57, is living with several other families in a building under construction, without water or electricity.

"They took our homes and destroyed them," says the displaced woman from the area of Rajo, to the northwest. 

"What else do they want to take? Our chickens? Our children's diapers?"

Only one UN convoy has entered Afrin since the assault began, distributing aid to 50,000 people in early March. 

Heve Mustafa, co-chair of Afrin's executive council, says authorities are struggling to keep up with growing needs.

"The humanitarian situation is disastrous despite our efforts," she tells AFP.

The town's hospital is short on staff, according to Mustafa, and available medical equipment is not enough for the wounded streaming in.

"Sometimes people die from the lack of medical supplies," she adds.

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