Concerns grow for Syrian civilians caught in intense Al Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor fighting: UNHCR

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GENEVA, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- The UN refugee agency UNHCR, said Friday it is deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of the civilian population of Al Raqqa city, where around 8,000 people are trapped by ongoing fighting.

Those who manage to escape fighting from Al Raqqa speak of deteriorating conditions inside the city, said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at a UN media briefing.

"Food, water, medicine and electricity are scarce. UNHCR reiterates our call that trapped civilians be allowed safe passage to reach safety, shelter, and protection," said the UNHCR spokesperson.

Those civilians face "the bleak choice" of staying in the city engulfed by conflict or fleeing through the fighting and with either choice risking death, said Mahecic.

Nearly 270,000 people have fled their homes in Al Raqqa governorate since the beginning of April, said UNHCR as forces seek to oust Islamic State members.

Most of those who fled, some 209,000, remain displaced within the governorate, while up to 40,000 have found shelter in Aleppo, 13,000 in Idleb, 6,600 in Deir ez-Zor and 1,400 in Hama.

"In the neighboring Deir ez-Zor governorate, we are equally alarmed by the ongoing fighting and the consequences for civilians," said Mahecic.

In the first week of October alone, an estimated 95,000 men, women and children were reportedly displaced by fighting to 60 locations across the governorate, as well as the nearby governorates of Al-Hassakeh, Al Raqqa and Aleppo.

UNHCR said it has stepped up preparations in camps near Al Raqqa and is expanding Ain Issa camp (some 45 kilometers north of Al Raqqa city) to be ready to receive more displaced Syrians from both Al Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

The UN refugee agency is currently sheltering more than 34,000 internally displaced Syrians in Ain Issa, Mabrouka, Areesha and Al Hol camps, which have the capacity to take in more people when needed. Enditem

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