Syria: People trapped in Azaz urgently need safe haven - Turkey and the EU must open their borders

An estimated 100,000 people trapped in the Azaz district of Syria, between the frontline with the Islamic State group and the Turkish border, must be allowed to reach safe haven in Turkey.  Europe must also honour its moral and legal commitments by granting asylum to those fleeing from this conflict.

Today, with fighting only a few kilometres away, people are in imminent danger of being engulfed by the conflict and falling under Islamic State control. “We are trying to cope and forget that we have lost our homes, but the reality is that we are trapped in an isolated land, with nowhere to go,” said Yahia Jarrad, nurse supervisor in MSF’s Al Salamah hospital in Azaz district.  Thousands of people are already encircled by Islamic State in Mare’a town.

“The Turkish government and the Turkish people are making an immense effort to help Syrian refugees, they are already hosting almost 3 million people,” said Pablo Marco, MSF Middle East operations manager. “But, today the people of Azaz can only count on them. We ask Turkey to show this generosity once again and open its border to those trapped in Azaz.”

The EU's embarrassing decision to close its doors to Syrian refugees is not only an abdication of its responsibility to assist, it is also discouraging Turkey from receiving new refugees. “Instead of fixating on how to stop refugees from reaching Europe, the EU must work with Turkey to speed up the process of granting asylum to Syrian refugees in Europe, starting with those from Azaz,” continued Marco.

The trapped civilians are cornered in barely 25 square kilometres. On one side they face a precarious frontline with Islamic State, less than 5 kilometres away. On the other, they are met with the Kurdish-controlled Afrin district and the border with Turkey – closed except for medical emergencies. “After countless displacements from military offensives, there is no place left for these people to escape to,” continued Marco. “These families, children, elderly people have either held on to their desire to remain in Syria, or have had to stay in the country as they lack the means to leave. But now their lives are at risk and the world must honour their right to flee.”

MSF and other organisations have been supporting the people of Azaz in desperate conditions over the last months. They have seen markets and hospitals bombed and entire villages fleeing from combat. Most MSF staff have become displaced themselves, joining tens of thousands of others crowded in overwhelmed camps, or in informal settlements without basic services.

Last Friday 27 MSF had to evacuate the patients of Al Salamah hospital and close the facility as frontlines drew too close. MSF teams are still stabilising and referring patients to other facilities and distributing relief items to those fleeing.