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World

Refugees From Raqqa In Northern Syria Want 'Just To Stay Alive'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The city of Raqqa in northern Syria, the Islamic State calls it the capital of its caliphate. Right now, rebels backed by the U.S. are fighting to take it back. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled. At first, they were running away from ISIS. Now, they're desperate to escape coalition airstrikes. And when they flee, they they go to camps for internally displaced people. But the camps don't offer much refuge from the horrors of war.

INGY SEDKY: I've been working now in Syria for more than a year. And I have to say that these are probably the worst camps I have ever visited. People are living in hell, basically.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Ingy Sedky. She's the spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria. Earlier this month, she visited five camps full of refugees. They had braved harrowing conditions to get to those camps.

SEDKY: They had to go on boats during the night to cross the Euphrates River. And even for those who made it to the other side, they had to walk for hours or even days in fields which are planted with land mines.

MARTIN: Sedky says it was the first ICRC visit to the region in four years. They traveled with the Syrian Red Crescent and found people living in dire conditions. One camp had been built on the site of a former oil refinery.

SEDKY: In some of the camps, you don't have doctors on site. You don't have even medicines to treat very minor injuries. One of the guys that we met, he had like a very small burn and not even a bandage in order to wrap it properly and not to be infected. And he was telling me how come we are in the 21st century and I don't have even a bandage for my injury?

MARTIN: So part of your mission there is to just document the horrific conditions that these refugees are enduring in these camps. But you're the Red Cross, you're also there to administer aid. What were the primary needs, and what were you able to do?

SEDKY: During even our visit in one of the camps, which had like only contaminated water, we started immediately to distribute bottles of water to around 6,000 people who are living in the camps. That, of course, this is not enough. That's why this visit was so important for us because a bottle of water will never solve the solution.

MARTIN: We here in the U.S. have been hearing for months about how the Pentagon, the U.S. military is arming allied rebels to make a push into Raqqa That is a priority for the military here, for the Trump administration. When you have conversations with people living in those camps, do they feel optimistic that ISIS will be pushed once and for all out of Raqqa?

SEDKY: Honestly, I have to say maybe like people don't care anymore about politics. What they wish for and what they hope for is - actually, the ones that we met recently, they want just to stay alive. Their only hope is to stay alive.

MARTIN: What would it take for these people to be able to return to their homes?

SEDKY: I have to say that the solution is not for us to decide that we can help people. We can help them by elevating their suffering during this time, but we need a real political solution for this ongoing conflict.

MARTIN: Ingy Sedky. She is part of the International Committee of the Red Cross part of a team that's been on the ground in Syria visiting refugee camps outside of Raqqa. Thank you so much for your time.

SEDKY: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELIOS' "CROSS THE OCEAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.