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Press Release

IRC fears for safety of hundreds of thousands used as ‘human shields’ by ISIS as assault on Raqqa begins

The IRC has treated those injured from fleeing across minefields and spoken with people living “with terror every day” under ISIS


In response to SDF forces reaching Raqqa city, Thomas Garofalo, International Rescue Committee’s Middle East Director of Public Affairs, said:

“The International Rescue Committee is deeply concerned for the safety of civilians in Raqqa who are now at real risk of facing the full brunt of the assault to come. The IRC has seen a drop in the number of people escaping Raqqa over the past week, which may indicate ISIS intends to use the 200,000 people still trapped in the city as human shields.

“There has been a worrying number of civilians killed from coalition airstrikes across Raqqa in recent months and the UN reported schools and health clinics in the city were hit by airstrikes in April. Given the large number of people still trapped in Raqqa it is essential the upmost care is taken to prevent further civilian causalities.

“Those who try to escape once SDF forces advance further into the city risk being killed from mines and ISIS snipers as well as airstrikes. IRC health teams responding north of Raqqa city have treated people injured by mines as they attempted to cross the frontline. This included a seven-year-old girl who saw her family killed. It is thought up to half the population of Raqqa could ultimately flee the city.

“The people of Raqqa have lived under ISIS’ brutal rule for three and a half years. They tell the IRC that they lived with terror every day, and that people were killed for the simplest reasons, including not fasting or attempting to contact people outside of the city. They have also had to cope with dwindling healthcare and shortage of water and electricity, which are both only available intermittently. They will be in need of all types of care, including specialist psychological support to help them recover from their ordeal.”

Since the beginning of the operation to take Raqqa city, the IRC has been providing health care and emergency cash to thousands who have fled areas seized during the fighting. Currently an IRC mobile health team and clinic north of the city is treating hundreds of newly displaced people each day. 

For further information on the IRC’s response in Raqqa, visit here.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.