Report on Afrin's displaced people published

Afrin Canton renewed calls to international community to help the refugees in Shehba.

The Afrin Canton Administration has published a detailed "report on the displaced people from Afrin Canton to Shehba, Northern Syria and surrounding areas". 

The invasion of Afrin by the Turkish army begun on 20 January and led to a mass displacement of the population of Afrin. Threatened of being kidnapped, tortured, raped or killed by the invading Turkish-allied Islamist forces, the majority of Afrin’s citizens were forced to flee their homes. 

Turkish attacks on Afrin targeted civilians

Since the beginning of the invasion the civil population has suffered numerous casualties targeted as it was by indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes. Massacres were inevitable when Turkish aircraft hit civilian buildings. 

The report lists many different examples. On the second day of the attacks, on 21st January in Jilboul village (Sherawa District), 1 civilians were killed and 8 others injured in an airstrike. Between 20th January and 18th March 2018, according to an official count, 262 civilians have been killed by the invading forces. At least 706 have been injured. In the last days of the invasion (14th - 18th March) the number of civilian casualties increased sharply, due to continual artillery and airstrikes on the city.

In addition, the report details the abusive and oppressive policies of the Turkish state’s Islamist allies against women, fostered by their misogynist ideology, is well known. Thus the women of Afrin had added reasons to be afraid. They were particularly at risk of being targeted by the occupying forces, for whom a woman who has lost her ‘honour’ is a legitimate target of rape and other forms of violence. Additionally the city was about to be encircled and the population was in grave danger, since the invading forces were threatening to commit genocide. The people of Afrin had no choice but to leave their homes and flee to the Shehba region, a neighboring area between Afrin, Azaz and Aleppo.

The report writes in details the life of hundreds of thousands of individuals. “They are living in desperate conditions. - said the report - Because of the huge number of people requiring humanitarian aid, the existing resources and infrastructure in impoverished Shehba have been completely inadequate for meeting their needs. Most people left Afrin without any of their belongings. Food supplies, water, shelter, healthcare and education services are severely lacking.

People have found shelter in war-damaged houses abandoned by their former owners, who fled from ISIS occupation of the region years ago. The local administration quickly constructed a refugee camp in Fafin to provide at least basic human needs, but healthcare is inadequate: there are not enough doctors, medical equipment or supplies.So far there has been no response from the United Nations or international aid organisations to the suffering of displaced people in Shehba. Now the plight of the refugees is worsening daily”.

A comprehensive field study has been carried out by the Afrin Canton Autonomous Administration. The information collected included age, family status, their health situation, accounts of how they fled their homes, the conditions they have faced since their arrival in Shehba, the standards of their accommodation and current risks to their health and wellbeing.

Shehba Region

Shehba is the area between the towns / cities of Manbij, al-Bab, Azaz, Semann, Jarabulus and Tel Rifat. The Shehba region is now largely occupied by the Turkish state and its allies fighting under the banner of radical Sunni Islam. The small part of Shehba north of Aleppo was liberated by democratic forces in 2016, which afterwards became the Shehba Canton.

The report makes a short history of the “Shehba Canton, which was seized by Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups in 2012, then captured by Islamic State (ISIS) in 2013. Because of ISIS’ brutal rule, exposing civilians to extensive killings, torture and robbery, the local population left the area and fled mainly to the peaceful safe haven of Afrin Canton”. 

The report adds that “the original population of the area was about 65% Kurdish, 25% Arab, 5% Circassian and Arnaout, and 5% Turkmen.The 58 villages liberated in 2016 (including Tel Rifat, Kafr Naya, Ahris, Um Hosh and Fafin) are situated in the part of Shehba formally connected to Azaz. This area recently became the destination for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Afrin, who themselves fled the invasion of the Turkish state, and the bombardment of Afrin City from 18th March 2018. 

Shehba’s soil is fertile and the area has high crop yields. In the past, wheat, barley, chickpeas and peanuts were cultivated, and the Shehba region was an important contributor to economy of Aleppo governorate and Syria. However, the agricultural infrastructure has been completely destroyed by the civil war”.

It is important to recall that the Shehba Canton was announced in the third meeting of the founding council of the Northern Syrian Federation. Shehba was declared part of the Afrin Region. The Shehba Canton Electoral Commission was formed. Commune elections as scheduled by the Federation of Northern Syria, as well as the second phase of elections of the Local Councils, were announced on 8/7/2017 on behalf of the Council of Shahba Canton. 47 communes were established according to the co-presidency system, ensuring 50% women’s participation. For the first time, the Canton is witnessing women’s participation at this ratio. Work expanded, especially in the health, service, education, and agricultural sectors. 

Turkey and its mercenaries — including ISIS, Al-Nusra, Sultan Morad, and other Islamic extremist groups — began their assault on Afrin on 20 January 2018, using NATO weapons and Russian-controlled airspace. 

Appeal to the international community

The report underlined that “over 700 people were killed. The Syrian Democratic Forces and the People’s and Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) demonstrated historic resistance since 20 January 2018. After brutal Turkish bombing against the center of Afrin city on 17-18 March 2018, the Syrian Democratic Forces withdrew from the center of the city to save tens of thousands of Afrin residents, after confirming information that Turkey would commit a massacre and genocide against the people of Afrin with the support of the Russian Federation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced to the Canton of Shehba, which has no capacity to accommodate such a number of displaced people.

The Shehba Council and 62 members of the province and 168 members  in  four towns  announced a general  mobilization  to  receive  a  large  number  of  displaced  people. 
About  250,000 were distributed in villages and houses, but tens of thousands remain in the streets without any help”.

The Council appealed to international organizations. The Self-Administration in the Cantons of of Jazira and the Euphrates in Northern Syria answered the call, sending dozens of trucks of food, medicine, baby milk, blankets and mattresses, and more than 10,000 tents to be distributed to the displaced. To avoid a humanitarian disaster, the report recalled that “a camp called ‘Berxwedan’(Resistance) was set up in Fafin district to shelter the displaced in order to avoid disease and death”.

According to the report “international relief organizations have so far provided no support to these displaced people, except for some aid from the Syrian Red Crescent”. 

The Shehba Canton reiterated its appeal to international relief organizations and to the United Nations to: 

- Provide support and attention to the displaced people of Afrin in Shehba

- Pressure major countries to expel the Turkish occupation and its mercenaries from Afrin

- Return the people of Afrin to their homes

- Stop Turkey from implementing a demographic change in Afrin through the resettlement of the people of ISIS and Islamist mercenaries from all parts of the world, as well as people from Ghouta, in Afrin.