Search form

Turkish offensive in Syria

What is happening in northeast Syria?

Last updated 

As the Turkish offensive in Syria continues, the International Rescue Committee is deeply concerned about the lives of civilians at risk in northeast Syria who have already survived ISIS brutality and multiple displacements during more than eight years of war. Here’s what you need to know.

What is happening in northeast Syria?

Three children have been killed and a further 11 injured since the military offensive began in northeast Syria on Oct. 9. All told, 42 people have died and 123 wounded, according to local organizations on the ground. Shelling and fighting continues, despite the announcement of a ceasefire.

An estimated 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, including at least 70,000 children. If airstrikes and ground attacks continue, a further 200,000 could be displaced.

What is the humanitarian situation in northeast Syria?

“The IRC is deeply concerned about the impact of this escalation on civilians, including our own staff members and their families, and the destabilising effect this will have on a population that has already borne the brunt of the eight-year-long conflict in Syria,” said IRC Middle East policy director Misty Buswell. “Many of these people have already been displaced multiple times and suffered horribly under the brutal rule of ISIS, only to be facing yet another crisis.”

The situation in northeast Syria is deteriorating rapidly. Many hospitals have had to close and those that remain open are overwhelmed with casualties. 

“We expect to see an increase in deaths from what are usually preventable diseases because of this, as there simply are not enough facilities to support those who have been displaced,” said Buswell. “Maternal mortality may also rise as it is increasingly difficult for women to gain access to the support they need.”

Organisations on the ground are finding it more and more difficult to reach those in need. A trauma stabilisation point run by a local organisation was hit by a suspected airstrike. Two of their ambulances were damaged, despite being clearly marked as humanitarian vehicles.

There have been reports of civilians fleeing with only the clothes on their backs. Many have fled to areas around Hassakeh governorate, some of whom, including unaccompanied children and women, are sheltering in schools. There are also reports of people sheltering in cars, trucks, makeshift shelters or simply staying out in the open. 

Others are fleeing to Raqqa, a city devastated by the battle against ISIS. Housing and electricity are limited in Raqqa and the city is littered with unexploded mines. Water supplies have also been damaged meaning 400,000 people are at risk of unsafe water and being exposed to outbreaks of infectious diseases.

According to reports on the ground, more than 1,000 people have fled to northern Iraq, where a quarter of a million Syria refugees already reside. 

The camps in the surrounding areas are also overstretched and any new displacement is likely to further push humanitarian services to their limit, just as the harsh winter weather approaches.

Widespread destruction left by previous waves of fighting is still visible in the Raqqa region of northeastern Syria

Photo: IRC

How is the IRC responding?

Many of these people have already been displaced multiple times and suffered horribly under the brutal rule of ISIS, only to be facing yet another crisis.

The IRC is providing lifesaving primary health care services via IRC-run centres and mobile medical teams in Hassakeh and Raqqa governorate. We are also providing legal services and support for vulnerable women and girls in Raqqa governorate. In addition, the IRC distributed food to new arrivals sheltering in camps and makeshift shelters, such as schools

We call on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect health facilities and other civilian infrastructure and ensure that civilians are spared from the worst impacts of the fighting. 

An immediate ceasefire is urgently needed to de-escalate the situation and ensure that humanitarian aid can get to vulnerable populations. 

The IRC has been delivering aid in Syria since 2012. Last year, the IRC and our partners delivered services to over a million people in the country. In northeast Syria, we are providing health care, emergency cash, psychosocial support and other vital services.

What can I do to help Syrians?

Donate Now. Help the IRC provide vital aid to families in Syria, and support our work around the world.