New York, NY, July 6, 2021 — Ahead of the UNSC meeting today on Syria and days away from the expiration of critical UN cross-border aid in northwest and northeast Syria, new IRC data reveals a devastating rise in suicides in northwest Syria amid record levels of need. Cross-border aid is a critical lifeline for Syrians in the northwest, supporting a massive humanitarian response. If the UNSC fails to renew its authorisation, suffering will increase exponentially: access to life-saving aid including health and mental health services will be diminished, compounding the humanitarian disaster.
The new data, collected through surveys with community members in northwest Syria, found that:
93% of people believe suicides have risen since the start of the Syrian crisis with a marked increase especially after the mass displacement of people from late 2019 to early 2020. 87% had heard of suicides in their communities. When asked about why people commit suicide, 77% of respondents said it was due to severe depression and mental health issues, 67% said it was due to domestic violence-- most specifically against women, 63% said it was due to financial hardship and/or loss of property, and 53% said it was due to loss of hope given the ongoing crisis and deteriorating conditions. Child marriage was also identified as a key reason behind why girls in particular commit suicide.
One survey respondent, when asked if he knew of anyone who had committed suicide recently, said, "A man, the head of a family, committed suicide because he lost his home and his livelihood when he was displaced, and he could not find a job or provide for his family.” Another survey respondent, asked the same question, said, "I know a case of a 16-year-old girl with several children and her husband had died and no one is supporting her or her children… She is under huge life pressures because she cannot meet the requirements of her children and other living requirements. [This] led her to suicidal tendencies by cutting her hand with a blade…” "Many suicides or suicide attempts I heard about or worked with were females as a result of domestic violence," a female aid worker said. “I know a patient with psychosis who hits his head forcefully as a suicide attempt. He is unable to get treatment because he cannot afford it due to the far distances of mental health centers and his inability to afford transportation costs,” one respondent said.
The survey also highlighted gaps in access to health services, including mental health services. Several challenges in accessing services were reported by communities, the top three were that medicines are not available, transportation difficulties such as household members not being able to afford high transportation costs, and cost of health services.
With 50% of health workers estimated to have left the country over the past decade, and only one psychiatrist per million people across northwest Syria, the scale of need demands a matched response. However, despite clear rising needs and insufficient access to life-saving services, the Security Council voted last year to restrict access to northwest and northeast Syria which has been shown to impact flows of-- and access to-- aid. In the northwest, the removal of the Bab al Salam crossing cut off a direct gateway to northern Aleppo, home to some of the highest concentrations of displaced people. 1.3 million people live in northern Aleppo in the area previously accessed from Bab al-Salam. 800,000 people – 62% of northern Aleppo’s population – are IDPs.
This decision leaves just one access point for life-saving UN assistance, to reach millions in northwest Syria. Humanitarian aid delivered through the remaining crossing, Bab al Hawa, provides 3.4 million people a month with humanitarian assistance, including food for 1.4 million people, health supplies - including COVID-19 vaccines - and also support for critical services, such as protection programming for Syrians who have experienced violence, psychosocial support for those in need of this type of assistance, education programming and job training – all of which relies on a continued UN-led cross-border response.
David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said:
“These new figures on suicide rates give tragic insight to the level of need and rising hopelessness after 10 years of conflict and economic collapse. It is critical that the international community take urgent action to meet this challenge, starting with the expansion of cross-border access to Syrians in need to ensure scale-up of critical services. Without sufficient alternatives, without a regular and timely flow of aid and services, this crisis will move from downright horrific to truly catastrophic. The UN Security Council should not play politics with people’s lives -- and they need to make the right move. This week they vote on whether to bring aid through crucial cross-border routes. Syrians are looking to the Council. But, the current draft text fails to include the reauthorization of a critical crossing to the northwest, Bab al Salam. This decision leaves just one access point for life-saving UN assistance to reach millions in northwest Syria. Weeks before it closed, one million health treatments were being delivered through the crossing a month. Its closure in the midst of a pandemic ended a reliable source for medical supplies, vaccines, and health treatments, and unnecessarily delayed the delivery of life-saving supplies. The evidence is abundantly clear that this aid is not only needed but is an urgent matter of life or death. The Council has within its power to expand access to humanitarian aid and service; to restore hope to millions of Syrians.”
If these critical aid routes are not renewed, more Syrian families will go hungry, health and mental health issues will rise and the COVID-19 response and vaccination campaign will be halted in its tracks, leading to greater unnecessary suffering. In addition, experience shows children will be taken out of school and forced to work, cases of child marriage will increase to reduce household expenses, and the risks of gender-based violence against women and girls would rise. People of northwest Syria already face record economic pressures, severe poverty, an unprecedented hunger crisis, and have been repeatedly displaced as the conflict enters its eleventh year.
In the northeast, needs have risen more than in any other part of Syria, increasing 40% since the Council’s decision to remove the vital crossing point Al Yarubiyah. This decision cut off cross-border access to the northeast for the UN, leading to shortages of essential medicines and healthcare supplies previously delivered by the UN through Yarubiyah.
As needs increase, so too must the channels for humanitarian assistance. The current situation demands increased access through all modalities, including the reauthorization of Bab al Hawa, Bab al Salam and Yarubiyah for cross-border aid.