UN Conducts First Aid Mission to Syria’s Raqqa Since ISIS Defeat

YPG fighters in Raqqa

The United Nations said on Wednesday that it has conducted its first humanitarian mission to Raqqa since the Syrian city was liberated from the Islamic State group, warning that returning civilians face enormous risks.

The city, which ISIS proclaimed part of its “caliphate” in 2014, is littered with unexploded devices, the head of the U.N.’s Syria humanitarian taskforce, Jan Egeland, told reporters in Geneva.

“Homes are still full of bombs (and) grenades. Children are still being maimed and killed,” Egeland said, after receiving a report on the visit, which was carried out in recent days.

Roughly 100,000 people have returned to Raqqa since ISIS was flushed out in October by fighters backed by a U.S.-led international coalition. Egeland said another 100,000 displaced people are waiting near the city and want to go back.

Compounding the risks of returning is the near complete absence of basic services including water, electricity and healthcare.

“It is incredible to have a city with nearly 100,000 people and no public services,” the U.N. official said. “There is no real police (or) law and order.”

The battle against ISIS in Raqqa included a heavy bombardment by coalition jets and left much of the city in tatters.

Egeland said the extent of the devastation observed by the U.N. team again raised the question of whether it was “necessary to totally destroy (Raqa) to liberate it.”

Relief work in Raqqa had been carried out by local civil society groups, but Egeland said the U.N. expects to start its own humanitarian operations in the city soon.

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