Mercy Corps evacuates staff from Syria

Oregon

Mercy Corps described Syria now as 'a nightmare scenario'

A Turkish police armored vehicle patrols the town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border with Syria, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. The towns along Turkey’s border with northeastern Syria have been on high alert after dozens of mortars fired from Kurdish-held Syria landed, killing several civilians. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the wake of President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, Mercy Corps announced they’re suspending their operations in the region and evacuating their staff.

Until last week, Syrian Kurdish forces supported by about 1,000 American troops held around a fourth of Syria’s territory, lands captured at great cost from the Islamic State group that gave Washington some leverage in the larger conflict, the Associated Press reports.

But U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move American forces aside allowed Turkey to launch a cross-border operation against the Kurdish fighters, who it views as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish separatists. The resulting chaos forced a broader pullout of U.S. troops and led the Kurds to turn to President Bashar Assad, their last remaining hope for protection against Turkish-led forces.

Mercy Corps, the relief agency with offices and deep ties in Oregon, said they’ve been in northeast Syria since 2014. They’ve also provided humanitarian assistance since Turkey’s incursion began October 9.

In this Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 photo, Turkey-backed Syrian fighters enter Ras al-Yan, Syria.Turkey’s military says it has captured a key Syrian border town Ras al-Ayn under heavy bombardment in its most significant gain as its offensive against Kurdish fighters presses into its fourth day. (AP Photo)

Made Ferguson, Mercy Corps’ Deputy Country Director for Syria, described the US pullout as “our nightmare scenario.”

“There are tens of thousands of people on the run and we have no way of getting to them. We’ve had to pull our international staff out of northeast Syria. We just cannot effectively operate with the heavy shelling, roads closing, and the various and constantly changing armed actors in the areas where we are working,” Ferguson said in a statement.

Michael Bowers, who is the Middle East Regional Director for Mercy Corps, said the humanitarian situation in that region will dramatically worsen.

“After almost a decade of conflict, millions of innocent civilians continue to be caught up in deadly violence,” Bowers said. “The people in this region have been uprooted repeatedly over the past ten years of war, and now they are trapped / forced to flee again.”

Last week, Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer resigned just 2 days after an Oregonian/OregonLive investigation found that executives at the global humanitarian aid group allowed co-founder Ellsworth Culver to remain in a top role after his daughter accused him of serial sexual abuse.

Culver died in 2005.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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