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Raqqa: “The humanitarian situation is critical and the risks enormous”

Iraq Syria

The city of Raqqa in Syria was recaptured by military forces[1] on 17 October 2017. Five months of fighting has caused a high number of civilian casualties and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Risk education session in Iraq to alert the returning population to dangers

Risk education session in Iraq to alert the returning population to dangers | © Blaise Kormann/L’illustré/Handicap International

Handicap International is alarmed by situation on the ground.

“Since the beginning of summer, Raqqa has been devastated by fighting, which has been marked by the intensive use of explosive weapons. Large-scale bombing and artillery shelling and the widespread use of deadly weapons such as improvised explosive devices (IED) in urban areas have had a devastating impact on the population. Once again, civilians are the main victims,” explains Florence Daunis, director of operations at Handicap International.

Thousands of bombing casualties

With populated areas under daily attack from explosive weapons, September was the deadliest month of 2017.

“A lot of people have been killed or injured in the fighting in Raqqa,” says Florence Daunis. “Thousands of people were trapped in the city and urgently need humanitarian assistance. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the north of the country are facing a situation that’s particularly complicated.”

“They have to walk for days before reaching areas they hope will be safer, by which time they are generally dehydrated and exhausted. We’re also seeing a lot of casualties of improvised explosive devices.  Every day, dozens of victims arrive in certain medical centres where they’re generally unable to stay more than a few hours.”

Contamination similar to Mosul

The impact of fighting in Raqqa in recent months goes beyond the immediate term and will mark the city for months and years to come. 

“As in Mosul, in Iraq, the fighting has left the city contaminated both by countless unexploded weapons, which are often extremely dangerous, and booby traps - some so sophisticated that weapons disposal experts do not yet have the capacity to neutralise them,” explains Florence Daunis.

“It will take years of clearance operations before the threat from these weapons is lifted in the region.” Raising the awareness of the population to the presence and threat from explosive remnants of war is therefore vital to protecting local residents.

Providing assistance to the local population

In addition to risk education, helping health facilities provide rehabilitation and psychosocial support services to casualties is a top priority, as is the distribution of food packages and essential non-food items to people who have suffered a sudden decline in their living standards.

To coincide with the release of its new report, Everywhere the bombing followed us, which focuses on the impact of the widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Syria, Handicap International is calling on all parties to the conflict to end this practice and on the international community to strongly condemn it and bring it to an end.

STOP Bombing Civilians

Handicap International launched an international campaign in early September - Stop Bombing Civilians - to collect one million signatures and alert States to the devastating impact on civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

The organisation is calling on States to sign a political declaration to bring an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to recognise the suffering of civilians. To this end, HI has also co-founded INEW (International Network on Explosive Weapons), a  coalition of international and national organisations.

[1] Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition forces 

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