Mosul offensive pushing more Iraqi civilians into war-ravaged Syria

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Mosul refugees on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Photo: ARA News

Geneva (UN)  Amid the intensification of the military offensive against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq’s Mosul city and the resulting displacement of civilians, the United Nations human rights wing said Friday that it has received reports that Iraqi civilians are also fleeing into Syria, which itself is reeling under a five-year long conflict that has displaced millions of Syrians and left hundreds of thousands trapped in besieged cities. 

“We have received reports that Iraqi civilians from rural areas around Mosul city have been arriving in Syrian governorates of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and al-Hasakah,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told journalists at the UN Office at Genevan Friday.

“They reportedly left, after the Iraqi Security Forces and allied armed groups captured the areas, fearing they would be seen as affiliated to ISIS,” she added.

OHCHR further said it also received reports that several hundred Iraqi civilians are in a “dire humanitarian situation” in Rajm al-Sleibi in the Syrian governorate of al-Hasakah (on the border with Iraq), which is under the control of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). 

These people include those who have fled the current Mosul fighting and those who had earlier crossed into Syria from Iraq. 

Reports have also been received that in the ISIS-controlled Syrian governorate of Raqqa, newly arrived families have been housed at the entrance to Raqqa city, in the neighbourhood of al-Mashlab, which is under the strong control of ISIS. 

“We are concerned that [such] ISIS tactics […] endanger the civilian population […] – namely taking civilians hostage and planting improvised explosive devices in civilian houses and residential neighbourhoods,” said Ms. Shamdasani noting possible ground operations by Kurdish and other forces as well as airstrikes by the US-led Coalition.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and according to reports, civilians – including women and children – continue to become casualties in air and ground-based strikes as well as lose their lives in want of medical treatment, said the UN human rights arm.

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