Northeastern Syria: MSF forced to evacuate

16 Oct 2019

16 October 2019 – Amid an extremely volatile situation following the launch of Turkish military operations, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has suspended most of its activities in northeastern Syria and evacuated all its international staff.


Syrians flee shelling by Turkish forces in Ras al Ayn, northeast Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Wednesday the start of a Turkish military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. © Associated Press / AP / MSF

Since October 9, MSF has evacuated international staff from Ain Issa, Al Hol, Tal Abyad, Tal Tamer, Tal Kocher/Al Yaarubiyah, Kobane/Ain Al Arab, and Raqqa city. These have been extremely difficult decisions, as MSF is well aware of the needs of displaced and vulnerable people in northeastern Syria.

Given the numerous groups fighting on different sides in northeastern Syria, it has become impossible for MSF to ensure the safety of Syrian or international staff. MSF's decision comes as the conflict changes rapidly and unpredictably, and humanitarian needs are likely to increase. In recent days, airstrikes, shelling, and armed clashes have had a grave impact on the civilian population.

"The people in northeast Syria have already endured years of conflict and uncertainty. The latest developments have only increased the need for humanitarian assistance, yet it is impossible to deliver it with the current insecurity. It is with a heavy heart that MSF has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of our activities and evacuate our international staff from northeast Syria. We cannot operate at scale until we can gain the assurances and acceptance of all parties to the conflict that we can operate safely."

Robert Onus
MSF emergency manager for Syria

In Tal Tamar town, MSF teams were providing blankets, emergency food rations, bottled water, and soap to thousands of people fleeing the conflict with little more than the clothes on their backs. Until October 13, MSF was supplying water to several villages in the area after an airstrike reportedly damaged the water pumping station, cutting off the water supply to whole towns.

On October 13, dozens of people wounded in an airstrike were brought to Tal Tamer hospital. In Ain Issa town, MSF teams witnessed the population fleeing homes on foot and seeking safety from the conflict.


An old lady, Zeinab from Manbij area describes their lives under the rule of the Islamic State, "As long as we did not complain and wore their black robes we were safe, but Turkey and their Islamic extremist are after our lives". The women resettled into Ain Al Arab after the collapse of the Islamic State in her hometown but threaten by the Turkish military operations. Most of the women have no documentation; they fled by foot till they were able to reach Hasakah. Eight women live together in one room sharing stories of the conflicts, their memories of their loved ones as many of their children and husbands have been killed during the eight year conflict. © Jake Simkin / MSF

As MSF teams depart, people in Ain Issa camp are severely lacking food, water, and medical care. Just last week, MSF teams were providing health care, mental health support, and water to people living in the camp.

Health workers were evacuated and relocated from the Ain Issa hospital, one of the main hospitals treating wounded people over the past five days. "We are also extremely worried about the safety of our Syrian colleagues and their families who remain in northeast Syria in these troubled times," Onus said. "We will continue to support our colleagues remotely and explore all possible options to deliver assistance to the people in northeast Syria, despite the constraints."


Refugees have fled the fighting in Ain Issa since the Turkish and FSA troops clash against Syrian Democratic Forces led to the displacement of several thousand refugees into neighbouring cities mainly Hasakah- the furthest town away from the conflict. Most refugees fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a blanket wrapped with a few personal belongs; they have headed to the road where they may receive a lift to the city. © Jake Simkin / MSF

MSF calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and to provide humanitarian organizations with safe and unhindered access to the civilian population, at a time of urgent need in northeastern Syria.


MSF remains present in northwestern Syria, working in multiple health facilities and mobile clinics and providing support to other health structures in the area.