The Syrian Red Crescent and UN agencies delivered 30 trucks of aid to Tal Rifaat on Sunday. Photo: @SYRedCrescent
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – More than 100,000 civilians who fled Turkey’s military offensive in Afrin are now facing the possibility of more violence as the conflict threatens to follows them to where they sought safety in Tal Rifaat.
People are terrified and desperate, “trapped in a conflict they have absolutely nothing to do with,” Ingy Sedky, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria told Rudaw English.
This is a scenario that is repeated again and again across Syria, she said, as people are being displaced for the second or third times.
They are now facing the prospect of having to flee again as Turkey prepares to extend its military operation into Tal Rifaat.
"God willing, we will ensure this operation achieves its goal after taking control of Tal Rifaat in a short period of time," Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
Turkey’s state-run media is describing Tal Rifaat as the “final target” in Operation Olive Branch, launched against the YPG in Afrin canton on January 20.
The civilians who fled Afrin have already lost everything. They fled their homes with “nothing at all,” only the clothes on their back, Sedky said. The ICRC and their partners at the Syrian Red Crescent have been working to provide accommodation, deliver food aid and basic necessities, and ensure clean water and sanitation facilities are available.
Some displaced families are reportedly sleeping out in the open in Tal Rifaat, which cannot accommodate this huge influx of people.
The host community itself has also needed aid. Sedky said they delivered humanitarian assistance to Tal Rifaat five times in the last year.
Local health officials have appealed for international assistance, stating that their resources and the aid so far delivered does not meet the needs of the people.
Health centres, hospitals, and water infrastructure were damaged in the conflict, the health council of Afrin and Shahba – the region that includes Tal Rifaat – said in an announcement on Monday carried by ANHA news. The council asked for help to treat those needing medical care and to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
Sedky said it is difficult to predict what will happen if Turkey does begin an offensive on Tal Rifaat, but reminded all parties that protection of civilians must be the top priority.
Tal Rifaat lies in the Shahba district, southeast of Afrin and north of Aleppo. It is under YPG control.
The town is currently sheltering the majority of the estimated 167,000 people who have fled the conflict in Afrin.
Aid agencies – including the Kurdish Red Crescent, Syrian Red Crescent, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the World Health Organization – have delivered several convoys of aid to Tal Rifaat.
On Sunday, the Syrian Red Crescent in coordination with UN agencies delivered 30 trucks of food and non-food items, including medical items, to the town.
Tal Rifaat came under Kurdish control when the YPG-led SDF captured it from Syrian rebels in February 2016.