New supply route boosts humanitarian response in Syria's Ar-Raqqa

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A Syrian displaced family sits in a tent in Ein Issa camp after they fled the besieged city of Raqqa in northern Syria.   © UNHCR/Nancy Moses

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has completed a first series of humanitarian convoys by road to Qamishli in Syria’s north-eastern Hassakeh governorate. The convoys took place over the last two weeks along a vital land route from Aleppo, opening a new link in getting aid to those in need in battle-affected Ar-Raqqa. 

With the number of people displaced from and within Ar-Raqqa governorate now having passed 190,000 since 1 April, the opening of the road from Aleppo to Menbij and Qamishli is a breakthrough. It is already making a difference on the ground.  

UNHCR’s first convoy of three trucks reached Qamishli on June 29 and delivered relief including tents, blankets, jerry cans and other essentials for thousands fleeing conflict in the area.  A second convoy arrived on July 4, a third reached its destination on 10th July, and a fourth convoy is on the way. A total of 22 trucks have been dispatched, 17 already reached their destination. Regular deliveries along the newly opened route are planned from warehouses in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, allowing UNHCR and other UN agencies and partners to reach a greater number of the estimated 430,000 people in need in Ar-Raqqa governorate.

Prior to these convoys, the road had been closed for nearly two years due to fierce conflict.  Costly airlifts, with limited capacity, were the only ways to bring supplies into the area.  Our sister-agency, the World Food Programme (WFP) was the first organisation to send a test convoy along the road, delivering badly-needed food to thousands of people.

The UN estimates that between 30,000 and 50,000 people remain trapped in Raqqa city – although certainty over numbers is difficult given the lack of access. Availability of food, water, medicine, electricity and other essentials has been dwindling, with the situation rapidly deteriorating. It is imperative that trapped civilians are able to secure safe passage out – to reach safety, shelter, and protection.

Chilling accounts of civilians attempting to seek safety continue to come to our attention. Many face the terrifying dilemma of having to decide between taking cover as fighting continues to rage, or taking their chances and running – risking death for themselves and their families either way.  For civilians to be put into such a situation is an affront to the common humanity of us all. We remind all parties of their obligations to abide by international humanitarian law.  Civilians must never become targets.  

UNHCR continues to stress that all parties to the conflict must protect civilians and respect the principles of International Humanitarian Law, including distinction, proportionality, and precaution.

Families fleeing the fighting are taking shelter in multiple locations. In Mabrouka camp (north-east of Raqqa city) which currently hosts approximately 1,700 displaced people, UNHCR is completing infrastructure work including road construction and lighting installations and continues to distribute relief items as well as providing services including facilitating medical evacuations.  In Ein Issa camp (some 45km north of Raqqa city), sheltering approximately 7,300 people, building and infrastructure work including lighting and installing communal kitchens is nearing completion. Assistance is also being provided at a new site near Basel Dam approximately 25km south of Hassakeh city where approximately 1,400 displaced people, mostly from Deir-ez-Zor, are taking shelter. Distributions of tents and relief aid have also taken place in Karama, Tell Abiad and other locations housing significant numbers of people seeking safety and shelter.

UNHCR and UN agencies and partners are coordinating our relief efforts closely and we are continuing to rapidly step up our response where access and security conditions allow.


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