The North-West Syria province of Idlib is home to more than a million children. They are living in a precarious and volatile situation, hemmed in between armed actors amid regular bombardment and clashes. As displaced families have poured in to the relatively small area escaping violence and deprivation in other parts of Syria, basic services that children rely on like schools and hospitals are overwhelmed.
Recently, the governments of Turkey and Russia agreed to create a new de-militarised zone (DMZ) along the frontline in the south of Idlib, which forestalled an expected military offensive. Increased fighting and fears of an escalation had already led 30,000 to flee their homes in September to areas in the north of the governorate. Most have now returned following the DMZ agreement, which involves the removal of heavy weaponry and armed groups from the zone and is due to be implemented in mid-October.
It is vital that parties to the conflict commit to the peaceful implementation of the DMZ as a first step. The situation in Idlib is already extremely tough for civilians. Children are exhausted of war, fearful of uncertainty, violence and further displacement. Any further escalation in the conflict, whether an offensive by the Government of Syria and its allies or fighting between or against armed opposition groups, will have catastrophic consequences. Many more families will be forced to flee – at least 700,000 people are expected to be displaced in even a limited offensive - and the humanitarian response will be stretched beyond its limits.
The DMZ agreement should be implemented in line with International Humanitarian Law and must lead to a lasting ceasefire and negotiated settlement. At the same time, we need to invest in immediate support and long-term recovery for children in NorthWest Syria and the wider country. Unfettered humanitarian access to all areas must be maintained and increased. As this briefing sets out, millions of civilians in Idlib are already in urgent need of humanitarian support and basic services - children’s lives are on the line.