With the announced US withdrawal from north-eastern Syria, and Turkey’s offensive, Oxfam and the humanitarian community are primarily concerned for the safety, security and rights of the civilians caught in the middle.
Civilians in north-east Syria are at risk and humanitarian aid could be cut off following the launch of Turkey’s new military operation in the area.
Reports from humanitarian responders on the ground say civilians are already on the move and that some vital services have been interrupted, including medical facilities and water supplies.
An estimated 450,000 people live within 3 miles of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are at least 1,650,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance in north-east Syria. The population includes more than 90,000 internally displaced people, who have already been forced to flee their homes at least once in Syria’s unrelenting war. The humanitarian response will be threatened if aid agencies are forced to suspend or relocate their programming and staff, which is already happening. With an ongoing major crisis in Idlib and huge needs across the country, the aid response in Syria is already stretched to breaking point.
The 15 aid agencies are urging parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law and ensure that they refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas. They must ensure all measures are taken to protect civilians and facilitate safe, unhindered humanitarian access. People living in the area affected by this military action have the right to freedom of movement and must not be forcibly displaced from their homes.
For Syrian refugees already in Turkey, there must be no forcible returns back to Syria. Anyone returned now could face threats to their safety and security, continued internal displacement and reliance on humanitarian assistance that the international community is not currently able to provide.
The international community has an important role to play in helping to resolve this crisis. The UN Security Council, which must emphasize the need for restraint and reiterate the importance of protecting civilians and facilitating full access for humanitarian operations.
The security situation in the area is already fragile, with tens of thousands of fighters and their families being held in camps and detention centers. All children must be protected and provided humanitarian assistance, and countries of origin should take immediate steps to repatriate the estimated 9,000 children from at least 40 different nationalities who are in north-east Syria.
Urgent action is needed to ensure that the humanitarian situation in north-east Syria does not worsen further, with potentially dire consequences for families and children who find themselves once again caught up in deadly violence.
Oxfam is not operating in north-eastern Syria, but we are advocating strongly, calling on all sides to protect civilians, adhere to international humanitarian law and to allow full access to aid. Oxfam is responding in other areas of Syria and supporting refugees in the region.