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Idlib, Syria: “We are faced with a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes” – UN humanitarian chief

18 Jun 2019


Five-year-old Siba, in her pink top, says she misses Eid celebrations, “We can’t celebrate Eid here,” she says. “We used to have nice food and I would get ice-cream and a new doll on Eid. I wish my parents and me could go to the amusement park like we do on Eid day.” Photo: UNICEF/Syria 2019/Khalil Ashawi

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock today briefed the UN Security Council on the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Idlib, Syria, where violence, involving Syrian Government forces and their allies, armed opposition forces, and the Security Council-listed terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, continued throughout the holy Eid al-Fitr period.

Hospitals, schools and markets have been hit. Power stations have been impacted. Crops have been burned. Children are out of school. The numbers of this crisis are shocking.

Over the last six weeks, hostilities have resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children. Hundreds more have been injured.

Since 1 May, an estimated 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, moving northwards towards the border with Turkey. A recent rapid assessment found that many of them have moved multiple times since the start of the conflict, some as often as ten times. This is a particular feature of the Idlib area. People fled there from other parts of Syria, then moved again and again, constantly searching for safety.

Camps for the displaced are overcrowded, with many people forced to stay in the open. Those who remain in towns and villages close to the fighting live in constant fear of the next attack. Many are crowding into basements, seeking refuge from air strikes, from volleys of shells and mortar rounds, and from fighting which continues to threaten what is left of their homes.

Many hospitals have closed out of fear of being attacked. These attacks don’t just claim innocent lives. They also deprive thousands of civilians of basic health services, even as fighting intensifies around them.

Since April, according to reports, 37 schools have been affected. More than 250,000 children are out of school. Some 400,000 students have had their exams cancelled. And 94 schools are currently being used as shelters. As UNICEF said last week, no parent should fear sending their child to a school that may be bombed later that day.

Civilians pay the highest price

Atmah, rural Idlib. Photo: UNICEF/Syria 2019/Khalil Ashawi

Earlier in the day, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres again voiced extreme concern for civilians caught in the conflict, while noting that there is “no military solution to the Syrian crisis.”

“I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib”, the UN Secretary-General said. “The situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors. Yet again, civilians are paying a horrific price. Let me underscore that even in the fight against terrorism, there needs to be full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Response to date

Atmah, rural Idlib. Photo: UNICEF/Syria 2019/Khalil Ashawi

The UN and its partners have been responding with emergency food assistance through ready-to-eat rations, reaching than 190,000 people in May. In addition, the UN and its partners have been reaching nearly 800,000 people with general food assistance.

Water, health and sanitation supplies have been distributed to some 180,000 displaced people and water trucking has been made available to people in some 342 camps and informal settlements.

“None of this, incidentally, would have been possible if this Council had not renewed resolution 2165”, ERC Mark Lowcock stressed today addressing the Security Council. “Cross-border assistance remains the only means of reaching people in and around Idlib. The UN and the brave humanitarian workers on the ground are doing all they can. They are risking their lives to help others. But the response is stretched and a further increase in need brought on by additional fighting would risk seeing it overwhelmed.”

“Counter-terrorism efforts cannot in any way absolve States of their obligations to uphold international humanitarian law”, concluded Mr. Lowcock. "As the Secretary-General said earlier, international humanitarian law must be upheld and attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop immediately.”