BARCELONA/NEW YORK, JUNE 2, 2016 — An estimated 100,000 people are trapped in northern Syria’s Azaz district with battle lines approaching, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today, calling on Turkey and Europe to open their borders.
With fighting only a few miles away, people in Azaz district are in imminent danger of being overtaken by fierce combat and falling under Islamic State control. Thousands of people are already encircled by the Islamic State in Marea town.
“The Turkish government and the Turkish people are making an immense effort to help Syrian refugees, already hosting almost three million people,” said Pablo Marco, MSF Middle East operations manager. “But, today the people of Azaz can only count on them. We ask Turkey to show this generosity once again and open its border to those trapped in Azaz.”
The EU´s decision to close its doors to Syrian refugees is not only an abdication of its moral and legal responsibilities — it is also discouraging Turkey from receiving new refugees, MSF said.
“Instead of focusing on how to stop refugees from reaching Europe, the European Union must work with Turkey to speed up the process of granting asylum to Syrian refugees in Europe, starting with those from Azaz,” Marco said.
The trapped civilians are cornered in an area of barely 10 square miles. On one side is a front line with the Islamic State, only about 3 miles away. On the other sides are the Kurdish-controlled Afrin district and the border with Turkey, which is closed except for medical emergencies.
MSF and other organizations have been supporting the people of Azaz in desperate conditions over the last months. Markets and hospitals have been bombed and entire villages have fled. Most Syrian MSF staff members in the area have become displaced themselves, joining tens of thousands of others crowded in overwhelmed camps, or in informal settlements without basic services.
“We are trying to cope and forget that we have lost our homes, but the reality is that we are trapped in an isolated land, with nowhere to go,” said Yahya Jarrad, a nurse supervisor in MSF’s Al Salamah hospital in Azaz district.
Last Friday, MSF had to evacuate the patients of Al Salamah hospital and close the facility as front lines drew too close. MSF teams are still stabilizing and referring patients to other facilities and distributing relief items to those fleeing.
BREAKING: Most staff/patients evac. after IS offensive. Concerned about fate of Al Salamah hospital- Frontline 3km https://t.co/nRPuwBo9PY— Doctors w/o Borders (@MSF_USA) May 27, 2016
“After countless displacements from military offensives, there is no place left for these people to escape to,” Marco said. “Now their lives are at risk and the world must honor their right to flee.”
MSF runs six medical facilities across northern Syria and supports more than 150 health centers and hospitals across the country, many of them in besieged areas.
From January and May, MSF´s Al Salamah hospital carried out 19,144 medical consultations, 9,904 emergency room consultations and 575 surgeries. Since February, MSF staff have distributed emergency relief items such as blankets, mattresses, hygiene kits and tents to more than 42,000 people.