The invasion of Afrin by the Turkish army led to a mass displacement of Afrin’s population. Under imminent threat of kidnap, torture, rape or massacre by the invading alliance of Islamist forces, the majority of Afrin’s citizens were forced to flee their homes. From the start of the invasion on 20th January 2018, the civil population suffered numerous casualties from indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes. Massacres were inevitable when Turkish aircraft targeted civilian buildings. For example, on 21st January in Jilboul village (Sherawa District), 11 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 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 and flee to the Shehba Region, a neighboring area between Afrin, Azaz and Aleppo.
This mass displacement resulted in hundreds of thousands of individuals living in desperate conditions. 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 organizations to the suffering of displaced people in Shehba. Now, the plight of the refugees is worsening daily.
To get an overview of the situation for Afrin’s refugees a field-study has been conducted. The conditions faced by dozens of representative refugee families have been studied and documented. 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.