More than 948,000 people have been displaced in northwest Syria since 1 December 2019. Some 569,000 of them are children and over 195,000 of them are women, together comprising 81 percent of the newly displaced population.
The current crisis is the worst that northwest Syria has experienced since the beginning of the conflict. More people have been displaced into a smaller area in a shorter period of time than ever before, with nowhere else to flee. Lives are increasingly at risk as increasing numbers of people are concentrated in smaller areas. Many are moving to unsafe areas as they have no other options. Their vulnerability and desperation is increasing, with reports of exploitation of women and girls, the separation of children from their families, and increasing rates of malnutrition.
The humanitarian community has revised its readiness and response plan to reflect the needs of the newly displaced people, host communities and people who had previously been displaced. Increased funding, reprogramming flexibility and other support is needed to enable humanitarian partners to suitably scale up the emergency response. Most importantly, an immediate cessation of violence is critical to save lives and alleviate suffering of hundreds of thousands of people.
The current crisis is the worst that people in northwest Syria has experienced since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. More people have been displaced into a smaller area within a shorter period of time than ever before, with nowhere else to flee. The risk to civilians from the violence is extreme, as international laws and norms are disregarded, at the same time as cold weather and economic stresses affect them. Many people have fled with nothing, unable to bring even basic supplies with them as the violence pushed them out of their homes; others fled with everything they had, attempting to bring as much as possible because they do not expect to be able to return to their homes. Humanitarian workers and other service providers are themselves being displaced, and facilities and supplies worth millions of dollars have been lost as infrastructure is destroyed and activities are reprogrammed.
As intensification of hostilities move into the 13th week since commencing on 1 December 2019, intensive aerial and artillery bombardments and ground fighting persist while frontlines continue to shift, with over 200 communities in eastern Idleb and western Aleppo governorates coming under the control of Government of Syria (GoS) forces and its allies since December. Hostilities continue to impact communities such as Daret Azza, Dana, Idleb city, Nayrab, Sarmin and their surroundings, as well as areas further south in Idleb governorate, particularly in the vicinity of Kafr Nobol. People continue to flee these areas, leaving behind their homes in search of safety elsewhere. Some 48,000 people were reportedly displaced since 20 February, despite most civilians having already fled these areas during earlier stages of the current violence.
The total number of people displaced in northwest Syria is immense, with over 948,000 people reportedly displaced between 1 December 2019 and 23 February 2020. Some 569,000 of them are children, and over 195,000 of them are women. Together they comprise 81 percent of the newly displaced population. Many of those newly displaced before, with each displacement eroding resilience and exacerbating existing vulnerabilities as people lose access to existing livelihoods, services and networks. Most of the latest wave of people to displaced – some 570,000 people – reportedly moved within the Idleb area. An estimated 237,000 people are in Dana sub-district alone, a location which is already home to over 712,000 people prior to the latest wave of violence. Maaret Tamsrin, Salqin, Idleb, Armanaz and Qourqeena sub-districts each host tens of thousands of other people newly displaced within Idleb governorate, while tens of thousands more are scattered among other communities. Some 380,000 people have been displaced to areas in northern Aleppo, mainly in the areas of A’zaz, Afrin, Jandairis and Al Bab.
The options for places to which people can flee are few and shrinking. There are more people in need than there are adequate shelters available, leaving many with no choice but to resort to unsafe or otherwise unsuitable accommodation. According to the CCCM Cluster, as of 23 February some 17,000 people were living under trees and in open spaces, some 163,000 people were residing in unfinished houses or buildings, and some 135,000 people were living in individual tents. Most people in these circumstances lack access to even basic infrastructure; that this is occurring during some of the coldest and harshest weather of this winter season aggravates the situation even further. As hostilities shift deeper into Idleb and western Aleppo governorates, locations where displacing people were fleeing, such as Atareb, and places along vital routes used by civilians to flee, such as Daret Azza, are increasingly impacted by airstrikes and shelling.
The pace and scale of the ongoing displacement is concentrating higher needs into ever smaller areas of the greater Idleb area, Afrin, A’zaz, and Jarablus, where civilian and humanitarian services are already heavily stretched. Shelter, non-food items, cash, food and protection assistance remain the most urgent needs. To meet these and other needs, humanitarian partners continue to scale up their response. From 1 to 26 February, 794 trucks transported UN humanitarian assistance into northwest Syria via the Bab Al-Hawa and Bab Al-Salama border crossings. This included food assistance for over 1.2 million people, health assistance for more than 445,000 people, WASH assistance for nearly 87,000 people and non-food items for over 71,000 people. Even more assistance has been provided separately by humanitarian NGO partners.
On 21 February the humanitarian community issued the updated inter-cluster readiness and response plan for northwest Syria, revised for the ongoing reality. The plan articulates the total cost to provide basic humanitarian support to some 1.1 million people for 6 months at US$ 500 million to some 1.1 million people displaced or at risk of displacement in the greater Idleb area and northern Aleppo. More than US$ 100 million has been raised towards this, including from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF), leaving a gap of some US$ 371 million still to be filled.
The need for humanitarian assistance persists for people in over 200 northwest Syria communities that have recently come under GoS control in Idleb and Aleppo governorates. Some families are reported to have stayed in these areas throughout the hostilities, with more civilians reportedly returning temporarily to inspect their properties and assets, with no humanitarian response reported in these areas to date. As of 22 February, some 1,700 people displaced from other parts of northwest Syria were reportedly living in various neighbourhoods of Aleppo city and areas of rural Aleppo. Humanitarian actors within Syria are responding to humanitarian needs in these areas, conducting assessments and delivering emergency assistance including food and NFIs.
The indiscriminate violence has grave implications for civilian lives and infrastructure, especially as population densities increase in towns, villages, camps and informal settlements in northwest Syria. On 20 February an IDP camp hosting some 850 people in Dana was reportedly struck by artillery shelling, injuring one woman and damaging several tents. Aerial and artillery bombardments reported on 25 February incurred a notably high civilian toll: as a result of hostilities affecting 10 schools and kindergartens in Idleb, at least nine children and three teachers were killed, and some 40 women and children were injured, according to UNICEF. On the same day, the Health Cluster reported hostilities impacting a hospital in Maaret Tamsrin and Idleb Central Hospital in Idleb city, reportedly injuring four healthcare workers in Idleb Central Hospital. Both hospitals incurred material damage and were put out of service. Prior to this, Idleb Central Hospital had provided 9,824 outpatient consultations, 378 hospital admissions, 250 major surgeries and 606 minor surgeries in the past month. Many incidents may be violations of international human rights or international humanitarian law.
Between 1 December 2019 and 24 February 2020, OHCHR recorded incidents resulting in the deaths of at least 465 civilians, including 145 children and 85 women, primarily in non-state armed group (NSAG)-controlled areas. Of these, 24 civilians, including six children and eight women, were reportedly killed in areas under the control of the Government of Syria. At least 1,746 civilians – including 513 children and 338 women – were killed in Idleb, Aleppo and Hama governorates in northwest Syria between 29 April 2019 and 24 February 2020, according to OHCHR records. 93 of these people, including 28 children and 23 women, were reportedly killed in areas controlled by the Government of Syria, and the rest in areas under the control of NSAGs.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.