According to current estimates, nearly 300,000 people have been displaced from southern Idlib since 12 December, with children and women being the most affected. Speaking to reporters in New York, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said “over half of the displaced, at least 175,000, are children”.
The United Nations Security Council were briefed on the current situation in Syria by the heads of the UN’s political and humanitarian offices – respectively, Under-Secretaries-General Rosemary DiCarlo and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock – in a behind closed doors session last Friday.
Violence has escalated in the countries northwest since Syrian forces and their Russian allies launched a military offensive to retake Idlib from al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists and rebel allies in mid-December. The escalation has left the UN colleagues deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over three million civilians in Idlib, over half of whom are internally displaced.
The news follows a New Years appeal from UNICEF to Syria’s warring parties to protect the hundreds of thousands of children at risk of death and displacement from the carnage in and around the northwest province of Idlib.
In a statement by UNICEF, Executive Director Henrietta Fore said;
“New Year’s Day is supposed to be a day of hope and a time to look forward to the year ahead. For families in Syria, any hope is all too often extinguished by heart-breaking violence.”
Fore reported that five children, aged between 6 and 13-years-old, were killed this New Year’s Day when rockets hit a primary school in Sarmin, Idlib Governorate.
Over the course of the conflict, attacks on civilian infrastructure providing services for children, such as schools and hospitals have become increasingly common. In 2019, the UN verified 145 attacks on schools and 82 attacks on hospitals and medical staff. More than 90 percent of these attacks were in the northwest including in Idlib.
Yesterday, Russian warplanes carried out airstrikes in Jericho, south of Idlib. The bombing resulted in the death of fourteen, including a citizen and three children. The raid specifically targeted residential neighbourhoods, a school, a mosque and a kindergarten.
Each day nearly 4,500 children are forced to flee their homes to escape similar attacks, with many having been displaced multiple times already. These new displacements add to over 400,000 women, children and men who were displaced by hostilities between the end of April and early December of last year, many of them multiple times. Over this same period, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded over 1,330 civilian deaths.
The situation has become so dire that Haq reports the city of Ma’arrat An-Numan and its surrounding areas to be “almost empty of civilians as families flee north to safety”. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, Russian warplanes carried out two airstrikes on the outskirts of Deir Sharqi village in the Ma’ar al-Numan countryside late last night, though no casualties have been reported.
To intensify the problem, people who are forced to flee north face particularly difficult situations as a result of the rain and cold. Many are reported to be living in camps, unfinished or partially destroyed buildings, in tents, under trees or even out in the open.
“Winter conditions are exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation…Families are fleeing in torrential rain and temperatures at night are close to freezing”.
Farhan Haq, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq
Humanitarian agencies have provided emergency food and cash to over 180,000 of the newly displaced, according to the deputy spokesperson. He also disclosed that ready-to-eat rations for more than half a million people, for up to five days, have been pre-positioned in anticipation of further displacement.