At least 27 civilians have been killed, and as many as 50,000 have fled from the Kurdish-held Syrian town of Afrin as fighting there continues. The U.N. Children’s Fund reports that “reports from inside Afrin indicate that dozens of children have been killed and many more injured since the start of hostilities in the district.”
Afrin is mostly populated by ethnic Kurds. The invading force is from Turkey, where the government views a Kurdish stronghold so close to its border as a threat.
These civilian refugees are in addition to the 10,000 to 12,500 who fled Thursday from the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region of Syria, which is currently under assault from the Syrian government.
Turkish attacks on Kurdish strongholds like Afrin have forced Kurdish leaders to pull their fighters from the war against the Islamic State, to defend their homes.
“We have been receiving deeply alarming reports from Afrin in Syria about civilian deaths and injuries due to airstrikes and ground-based strikes,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Kurds primarily inhabit a region called Kurdistan that stretches across the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and parts of Armenia. The Turkish government and the Kurds have been at odds for decades. In a push for greater autonomy, a Kurdish militant group called the PKK has been fighting in Turkey since 1978.
Turkey, the European Union, and the U.S. have all declared the PKK to be a terrorist group, but the U.S. sees a difference between the PKK and other Kurdish groups, while Turkey views them all as terrorist organizations. Turkey was reluctant to join the war against the Islamic State in Syria, but it has shown no hesitation in attacking the Kurds.
Meanwhile, in the Ghouta region of Syria, hundreds of civilians continue to flee, while dozens of have been killed in airstrikes alleged to have been carried out by the Russians. Russia has been one of the Syrian regime’s allies during this seven-year-long war. About 511,000 people have been killed during the course of this war, with 85 percent of those being civilians killed by the forces of the Syrian government.