Between June and September of 2017, U.S. and coalition forces were seeking to wrestle the city of Raqqa from ISIS control. The city’s health care system was not spared the intense fighting and continuous bombardment which demolished hospitals and clinics. Field sources told Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) that any civilian gathering in Raqqa at the time appeared to be interpreted as a military target for aerial bombing or shelling. They said that, as a result, residents stopped attempting to even rescue their injured from the rubble.
In interviews with health professionals and relief personnel, PHR confirmed that during the last weeks of the offensive, Raqqa’s poorly-equipped National Hospital was the only health care facility operating to serve tens of thousands of people remaining in the city. With virtually no emergency services or rescue personnel left in Raqqa, PHR’s sources said few civilians were even able to make it to the one remaining hospital. For those who did, the care is woefully inadequate. Ongoing fighting in the region had also prevented aid convoys carrying medical supplies from reaching the city since ISIS, also known as ISIL or the self-declared Islamic State, took control in 2013. And for those attempting to flee, they were at risk from ISIS landmines and snipers that ring the city, as well as coalition strikes.
Since the beginning of the conflict, PHR documented at least three attacks against Raqqa’s National Hospital.
When ISIS took control of Raqqa in 2013, thousands of civilians fled, including many health care professionals. Dr. Muhammad, a medical specialist whose name we’ve changed to protect his identity, was one of the few health professionals who continued working in the city until he was forced to flee due to the latest offensive.
Like other clinicians, Dr. Muhammad was forced to close his clinics and dispensaries and started receiving patients in his home. As medical supplies dwindled, he could only provide very basic medical care. Dr. Muhammad told PHR: “I went two or three times to a pharmacy, but it was always closed.” He said his patients would take any medication rather than go to the hospital, fearful that the hospital would be shelled or that they would face extortion or mistreatment from the ISIS fighters stationed at the facility.
Dr. Muhammad finally decided to leave Raqqa in mid-August after an airstrike killed two of his colleagues while they were at home. Their houses were reportedly leveled by coalition strikes. While Dr. Muhammad was fleeing the city with his daughter, a landmine exploded, injuring Dr. Muhammad and killing his daughter.
“You can hear about it but you will never imagine it,” Dr. Muhammad told PHR. “Living it is not like hearing about it. This is beyond imagination. We had nothing to do with anything in Raqqa, and we are paying the highest price. This is indescribable. There is misery at every level.”