Tuesday June 13, 2017

As U.S.-backed forces work to drive ISIS out of the Syrian city of Raqqa, aid groups say residents are forced to choose between staying in a city under bombardment or fleeing over active front lines littered with mines.

“It’s an incredible, difficult decision to make and, for me, a decision no family, no parent should have to make,” Puk Leenders, emergency co-ordinator for Doctors Without Borders, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Puk has not been inside Raqqa herself, but works on the ground in Syria with those who have managed to flee the area. Their stories, she said, are “incredibly painful to hear.”

“I spoke with a father who fled with his children, and during the time he was fleeing they got on a mine and he lost one of his children, and the other girl was badly injured,” she said.

“Most of the people are sharing the stories of slowly losing hope in a future and slowly losing hope in a future for their children.”

Those who remain are no better off. As the battle intensifies, independent and activist groups raised concerns about the growing number of civilians being killed in airstrikes, including by U.S.-backed coalition forces.

The monitoring site Airwars reported that between 283 and 366 civilians have died from coalition airstrikes in Iraq in Syria just in the month of April alone. 

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Syrian Democratic Forces fighters carry their weapons as they stand in Raqqa’s western neighbourhood of Jazra on June 11. The U.S.-backed troops are working to push ISIS out of the city. (Rodi Said/Reuters)

Meanwhile, the fighting is preventing aid groups from safely reaching those trapped inside. 

The UN’s refugee agency says 100,000 people were displaced in May.

But still, close to half a million people inside Raqqa province are in need of assistance, UNHCR says.

Doctors Without Borders is calling on all parties in the Syrian conflict to increase de-mining efforts and create safe corridors for citizens to leave the city. 

“It’s important that all actors make sure that civilians can flee in a safe way to safer areas,” she said. “It’s a very difficult thing that the people inside Raqqa are suffering so much from this war. I mean, they are people. They are civilians. They are just like us.”

With files from Associated Press

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