Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Date: 16 March 2018
We have been receiving deeply alarming reports from Afrin in northwestern Syria about civilian deaths and injuries due to airstrikes and ground-based strikes, as well as reports that civilians are being prevented from leaving Afrin city by Kurdish forces.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians are at risk, including those recently displaced from other areas captured by Turkish-led forces. We have received reports that only those civilians who have contacts within the Kurdish authority or the Kurdish armed forces have been able to leave, but even they have to make a treacherous path through, risking shelling and explosive hazards only to reach checkpoints manned by Government-backed armed groups where they may only be permitted to cross after paying money.
The humanitarian situation is reportedly worsening, with tremendous pressure on Afrin hospital – the only medical facility equipped for major operations – which is struggling to cope with the influx of injured people. There is also a severe water shortage due to the reported destruction of a pumping station as well as the control of other water resources by Turkish-led forces. We have received reports of opposition fighters on the ground in some areas looting the homes of those who have fled the area.
Civilians on the ground have expressed serious worries to us regarding their safety, including as a result of fighters placing rocket launchers in residential areas. We are deeply concerned about the high risk of civilians – who are effectively trapped – being killed, injured, besieged, used as human shields or displaced as a result of the fighting.
We remind all parties to the conflict that they must permit civilians wishing to leave combat areas to do so in safety, and to ensure the protection of those who remain. They must take all feasible precautions to avoid loss of civilian lives, and where there have been reports of civilian casualties, these must be promptly and effectively investigated.
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