AMSTERDAM/NORTHEAST SYRIA — Following the launch of Turkish military operations and the extremely volatile situation in northeast Syria, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuate all its international staff from northeast Syria.
Since Wednesday 9 October, the extreme volatile situation in northeast Syria has forced MSF international staff to evacuate from MSF’s projects in Ain Issa, Al Hol, Tal Abyad, Tal Tamer, Tal Kocher/ Yaroubiyah, Kobane/ Ain Al Arab and Raqqa city. These have been extremely difficult decisions, as MSF is very aware of the needs of fleeing and vulnerable people in the region.
However, the highly unpredictable and fast-changing situation at present has made it impossible for MSF to negotiate safe access to deliver healthcare and provide humanitarian assistance to people in distress. Given the numerous groups fighting on different sides of the conflict, MSF can no longer guarantee the safety of our Syrian and international staff.
"The people in northeast Syria have already endured years of conflict and uncertainty. The latest developments have only increased the need for humanitarian assistance, yet it is impossible to deliver it with the current insecurity,” says Robert Onus, MSF Emergency Manager for Syria. “It is with a heavy heart that MSF has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuated its international staff out of northeast Syria. We cannot operate at scale until we can gain the assurances and acceptance of all parties to the conflict that we can operate safely."
“We are extremely worried about the safety of our Syrian colleagues and their families who remain in northeast Syria in these troubled times. We will continue to support our Syrian colleagues remotely and explore all possible options to deliver assistance to the people in northeast Syria, despite the constraints.” Says Onus.
The decision to suspend the majority of MSF’s activities comes as the humanitarian situation spirals further out of control and needs are likely to increase.
In Tal Tamar town, MSF teams were providing blankets, emergency food rations, bottles of water, and soap to the thousands of displaced people who were arriving in the town daily after having fled from their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs. Until October 13, MSF was supplying water to several villages in the area to overome water shortages after an airstrike reportedly damaged the water pumping station, cutting off the water supply to whole towns.
Airstrikes, shelling, and armed clashes have had a grave impacts on the civilian population and on the ability of humanitarian organisations to deliver aid safely.
On October 13, dozens of people wounded by an airstrike were brought into Tal Tamer hospital. In Ain Issa town, MSF teams witnessed the population fleeing their homes on foot and seeking safety away from the ongoing conflict. Health workers were evacuated and relocated from the Ain Issa hospital, which had been one of the main hospitals treating wounded people over the past five days.
Today, as MSF teams depart, we have heard from our staff that the people in Ain Issa camp are severely lacking food, water and medical assistance. Just last week, MSF teams were providing healthcare and, supplying water and mental health support to people living in the camp. Now they are left in a very precarious situation and we are extremely worried for their wellbeing.
MSF calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians. We further call on them to provide humanitarian organisations with safe and unhindered access to the civilian population so they can deliver assistance, at a time when it is urgently needed.
Note: MSF remains present in Northwest Syria, providing health care in various facilities and via mobile clinics, as well as supporting health structures in the area.