Yesterday ISIS successfully counterattacked against rebel forces in the north of Syria, forcing them to retreat to more secure areas of the Azaz pocket. This retreat brought ISIS close to a large number of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps along the border with Turkey.
According to reports from activists on the ground, ISIS then proceeded to overrun these camps causing several deaths and large fires. Photos as well show many refugees fleeing the area, while Human Rights Watch claims that up to 30,000 people had been displaced by the fighting over the last 48 hours.
Many of the refugees themselves had been previously displaced during the earlier regime and SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) offensive against rebel positions in northern Aleppo. The IDP camps in this region had been set up with support from Turkey and seemed to fit into the country’s stated goal of creating a ‘safe zone’ for civilians in this region.
To help establish this safe zone, Turkey had been providing direct artillery support to rebel groups in their fight against ISIS, alongside Coalition air strikes. However this support appears to have not been sufficient and ISIS struck back, effectively cutting rebel positions in half, and capturing significant amounts of newly supplied equipment.
The situation for refugees fleeing the fighting was made worse by a recent border wall built by Turkey. Allegedly built to prevent infiltration by militants, the wall also serves as a barrier to refugees looking for safety in Turkey. According to reporting by both Human Rights Watch and The Guardian, refugees themselves spoke of being shot at by Turkish security forces as they attempt to cross the border.
“As civilians flee ISIS fighters, Turkey is responding with live ammunition instead of compassion,” said Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The whole world is talking about fighting ISIS, and yet those most at risk of becoming victims of its horrific abuses are trapped on the wrong side of a concrete wall.”
Caught between ISIS and this Turkish border wall, the situation for these IDPs continues to deteriorate. While it is unlikely that ISIS will be able to push much further into rebel-held territory around Azaz, the humanitarian situation continues to get worse as refugees have little to no safety from the four-way fighting in the area involving the SDF, Pro-Government and Anti-Government factions as well as ISIS.