Humanitarian groups in northeastern Syria are scrambling to provide aid to hundreds of thousands of people as rapidly shifting battle lines make it increasingly difficult to reach them.
Nearly all foreign aid workers have been evacuated because of security concerns, and there are fears that local staff could face reprisals, either at the hands of Turkish-led forces pushing in from the north or Syrian troops fanning out across territory held by the embattled Kurds.
The front lines are being rapidly redrawn as more than 160,000 people flee the fighting, including many who were displaced by earlier battles in Syria’s eight-year civil war. The offensive has created a new refugee crisis in a region where some 1.6 million people already rely on humanitarian aid.
Before the offensive, a camp in the northern town of Ein Eissa held an estimated 12,000 displaced people, including around 1,000 wives and widows of ISIS fighters and their children. But rioting broke out as Turkish-led forces closed in over the weekend, leading to the escape of hundreds of ISIS supporters.
Sonia Khush, the Syria response director at Save the Children, which was operating in the camp, now says it is “nearly empty,” with most of the residents having fled further south and the IS supporters melting away. She said the aid group can no longer access its office in Ein Eissa, and that most of its local staff have themselves been displaced.
“We have to leave as the battle lines change,” she said.
A Syrian girl who is newly displaced by the Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria, weeps as she sits in a bus upon her arrival at the Bardarash camp, north of Mosul, Iraq. (AP)