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Escalating Violence in Syria Making Aid Delivery Difficult

By Dale Gavlak October 17, 2019

Aid workers say escalating violence near the border between Turkey and Syria is making it hard to deliver aid to the hundreds of thousands of people in need. At least 1,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring Iraq in search of safety from Turkey's bombardment and Syrian-allied troops on the ground.

As fighting intensifies in northeastern Syria between the Turkish military and Syrian militant troops against Kurds and Syriac Christians, humanitarian organizations are scrambling to get assistance to hundreds of thousands of civilians caught in the crosshairs.

Karl Schembri of the Norwegian Refugee Council describes conditions of those fleeing escalating violence.

"The situation for many of the people is utter chaos. Fear gripping the entire area, not knowing what is going to happen next," Schembri said. "Where the next attacks will be. A lot of the displacement happening, the latest figures speak of around 200,000 people on the run because of the fighting. There have been displacement camps that have closed down with people evacuated to other areas, which are hopefully safer."

But Shembri and other aid workers say rapidly shifting battle lines also make it very difficult to reach those in need. Schembri explains the dilemma humanitarians are facing.

"Besides the fighting itself, it's also the fact that many of the agencies cannot continue right now because it is so dangerous," Schembri said. "And that itself is putting lives in danger because there are at least 100,000 previous displaced due to previous fighting in Syrian crisis, who were completely dependent on humanitarian aid. So, they depend on aid agencies for water, food, medical aid and shelter. Most of these services have been suspended because of the uncertainty and lack of safety for aid workers. So, every day that passes without these aid services resuming is putting lives at risk in itself, not to mention the fighting that has already killed civilians."

Some Syrians are fleeing into neighboring northern Iraq in search of safety. The United Nations refugee agency has reported that 1,000 Syrians have crossed the border.

Father Emanuel Youkhana, a Catholic priest, who runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, which is helping Iraqis displaced by Islamic State attacks in the Dohuk area, says he expects many more Syrian refugees to come. His staff is helping them when they arrive.

"But of course, they will increase," Youkhana said. "The staff have met them on the border of Fishkhabour and they are set up now in the camps."

Due to the deteriorating security situation in northeastern Syria, nearly all foreign aid workers have had to evacuate the area. Local staff also fear reprisals by the Turkish-led forces.

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