ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – An estimated 167,000 people have been displaced by recent hostilities in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, as it called for urgent aid to be dispensed.
Most of the people fled about 30 km southeast to Tal Rifaat, while others traveled further south toward Allepo to the towns of Nubul, Zahra, and surrounding villages. According to the WHO, the influx of displaced people has put additional strains on hosting communities with already-overwhelmed health facilities.
“Children, women, and men have undertaken harrowing journeys to flee Afrin and need urgent health assistance. Our staff has met civilians who reported walking for 36 hours to reach safer areas,” said WHO Representative in Syria Elizabeth Hoff. “WHO calls on all parties to ensure that critically sick and injured civilians are referred to facilities that can provide proper treatment.”
On Jan. 20, Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched a joint military operation to capture the Kurdish enclave of Afrin located in northwestern Syria.
The WHO has deployed four mobile health teams to Tal Rifaat, Nubul, and Zahra as well as delivering 10 tons of medical supplies sufficient for 55,700 treatment courses. The organization stated that the second shipment of medicines and medical supplies sufficient for more than 64,000 treatments is ready to be dispatched from Aleppo to Tal Rifaat, once the access is guaranteed.
“For tens of thousands of civilians who remain in the city of Afrin and surrounding areas, WHO’s cross-border hub in Gaziantep, Turkey is helping health partners to scale-up health services, amid concerning shortages of medical supplies and staff,” a WHO statement added.
Turkish and FSA forces now control Afrin city, which, combined with their previous heavy bombardment and reported chemical weapons attacks, have resulted in tens of thousands being displaced from the area.
Editing by John J. Catherine