• The humanitarian crisis for people in northwest Syria continues to reach new and dire levels. Some 900,000 people have been displaced since 1 December, exceeding worst case planning figures by the humanitarian community.
• Indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas continue to drive people from their homes and destroy vital services, including hospitals, markets, and schools. Cold weather has made the situation worse.
• The frontlines in northwest Syria are rapidly moving closer to densely populated areas, with bombardments increasingly affecting IDP sites and their vicinity.
The humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria has reached a horrifying level with almost 900,000 people displaced since 1 December. The majority of women, men, girls and boys who fled their homes to escape indiscriminate attacks moved to northwestern Idleb governorate, a small area already hosting hundreds of thousands of displaced people.
The entire population of the Idleb area, estimated at 3 million people prior to the latest wave of violence, is increasingly concentrated in this small area along the Turkey-Syria border with no other place to go to find safety.
Since 1 December, some 300 communities changed control, rapidly bringing the frontlines closer to areas that are densely populated. People from those communities are those who fled. Places previously considered safe by civilians are now coming under fire. On 14 and 15 February, one person was killed, and many others were injured when two IDP sites were hit in Dana sub-district. These locations received some 267,000 displaced people recently and was home to more than 712,000 people prior to the latest wave of violence. Nevertheless, people from areas such as Atareb and Daret Azza, now at the frontlines, continue to flee further into northwest Idleb and northern Aleppo governorates as heavy bombardment impact their communities. According to OHCHR, some 300 people were killed in Idleb and Aleppo due to hostilities from 1 January to 18 February, many of them women and children.
Some 330,000 of the almost 900,000 people who displaced since 1 December fled to areas in northern Aleppo governorate such as Afrin, A’zaz and Al Bab. However, the freedom of movement of civilians from Idleb to northern Aleppo is increasingly at threat. As bombardment extended to the Daret Azza area, the roads leading to one of the two crossings between the Idleb area and northern Aleppo governorate reportedly came under fire, making it extremely dangerous for civilians to move via this route. Despite the announcement of two additional crossings between areas controlled by non-state armed groups and the Government of Syria opening near Mezanaz and Saraqab, and the relative decline of military activity in proximity of two others in Abu Thohur and al Hader, there is no information that people used these crossings to leave the Idleb area.
Nonetheless, some 1,040 people reportedly moved from the Idleb area to areas under the control of the Government of Syria since 1 December, Humanitarian actors are increasing their readiness for potential further movement of people. Some 1,000 people recently displaced from northwest Syria, reportedly arrived in Ar-Raqqa city where they are receiving assistance at collective shelters.
The delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Idleb area is susceptible to the impact of military activity. Humanitarian transshipments via the Bab al Hawa crossing that provides a lifeline to Idleb were suspended temporarily on 11 February when hostilities intensified. Regular transshipments resumed the following day, truck drivers from inside the Idleb area were reticent to separate from their families given the volatility of the situation. Prior to the most recent wave of violence and displacement, an estimated 1.9 million people were estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in the Idleb area.
Indiscriminate attacks continue to damage or destroy vital civilian infrastructure, including hospitals. On 17 February, two hospitals in Daret Azza town were reportedly damaged by airstrikes and put out of service. These hospitals providing some 14,000 outpatient consultations, facilities for hundreds of safe deliveries, surgeries and hemodialysis sessions. According to OHCHR, 10 medical facilities and 19 educational facilities were either directly hit or affected by strikes close by since 1 January in northwest Syria.
Harsh winter conditions further aggravate the suffering of these vulnerable people who fled their homes to escape the violence, most of whom have been displaced multiple times over nine years of conflict. Almost 170,000 of those newly displaced people are estimated to be living in the open or in unfinished buildings while some 284,000 are staying in camps already over-stretched beyond capacity or in makeshift camps where they set up individual tents with no basic services such as latrines. Many people have resorted to burning whatever they can spare such as extra clothes, pieces of furniture or materials they scavenged that let out toxic fumes.
In light of the scale of this dire humanitarian situation, humanitarian actors on the ground continue to leverage all efforts to scale up. However, people’s needs are so vast, with the current resources it is a struggle to meet their needs which grow exponentially despite all humanitarian efforts. As people’s humanitarian needs becoming more severe by the hour, humanitarian workers, who are the backbones of the emergency response, are displaced themselves with their families and struggle to support their loved ones. Many humanitarian NGOs had to leave behind equipment as they displaced with the people they were supporting. Humanitarian assets, warehouses and offices were left behind. Humanitarian activities planned in areas which changed control or close to the frontlines can no longer be carried out.
Some $30 million USD has been dispersed by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for the emergency, and an additional emergency allocation of $40 million USD from the Syria Cross-Border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) is under process. The humanitarian community estimated that $336 million USD was needed to support some 800,000 people until July 2020 to meet the needs. This inter-cluster plan is under revision as more people are now affected.