Syria Crisis: Northeast Syria Situation Report No. 28 (1 September 2018 – 30 September 2018) [EN/AR]
• The situation of civilians who remain trapped in the ISIL-controlled Hajin enclave along the east bank of the Euphrates River in southern rural Deir-ez-Zor, as well as the situation of estimated 27,000 people displaced since June, remains a significant concern amidst ongoing reports of airstrikes, ground offensives, and explosive hazard contamination as well as high levels of reported need.
• The United Nations (UN) and its partners have begun to scale-up the response to those civilians displaced by ongoing hostilities in the vicinity of the Hajin enclave. Four UN implementing partners were able to provide limited assistance to IDPs in Gharanij. This is in addition to the 22,500 people in the Hajin and Theban areas who receive food each month from WFP.
• An estimated 224,685 people (as of 25 September) have returned to their areas of origin within Deir-ez-Zor Governorate since November 2017.
• Over the reporting period some 92 cases of typhoid were reported in the Areesha camp in Al-Hasakeh Governorate, a reduction in new cases from the previous reporting period. This outbreak of typhoid is in addition to ongoing reports of acute bloody diarrhea in Deir-ez-Zor, Ar-Raqqa and Al Hasakeh governorates, with some 245 cases reported over the reporting period.
• An estimated 152,630 individuals returned to Ar-Raqqa city since October 2017, although conditions remain unconducive for returns due to high levels of destruction and explosive hazard contamination. Sub-standard living conditions in IDP sites, protracted displacement, movement restrictions and a lack of information on the scale and scope of explosive hazard risks in Raqqa city may all be factors influencing IDP decisions to return.
On the 11 September the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the International Coalition Forces (ICF) announced the third phase of the Al-Jazeera Storm operation to clear ISIL elements from their last remaining strongholds in the so called Hajin enclave in the south-east of Deir-ez-Zor Governorate along the east bank of the Euphrates River. In the ensuing period a significant escalation in airstrikes and ground-based hostilities have been reported resulting in civilian death and injury, concentrated around the towns of Al-Sha’afa, Al-Baghouz, Suwaidan and Hajin. On the 20 September the SDF reportedly gained full control of Al-Baghouz town and is now conducting a ‘security sweep’ of the area to root out remaining ISIL fighters and clear explosive hazards from the town. As of 25 September, the SDF had also reportedly encircled Suwaidan with civilians apparently unable to leave or enter the town. An estimated 15,000 people, including 5,000 ISIL fighters and their families, are reported to remain in ISIL-controlled areas.
Against the backdrop of this escalation in hostilities and reported restrictions on the freedom of movement of civilians, there are significant concerns for the safety and security of civilians estimated to remain under ISIL-control in the Hajin enclave. Over the last month, scores of civilians have reportedly been killed and injured due to airstrikes or having been caught in the cross-fire. The ability of civilians to move freely remains unclear given ongoing high-intensity hostilities as well as persistent reports of restrictions imposed by parities to the conflict that prevent civilians from reaching safety.
The recent escalation of hostilities has reportedly led to the displacement of some 7,000 civilians from the Hajin enclave, predominantly Hajin and Al Baghouz towns to SDF controlled areas since the 11 September. The majority of those who have been displaced comprise women, children and the elderly. Upon leaving ISIL-controlled areas these people are reportedly subjected to security screening at SDF checkpoints in the Badiya desert area, with reports that young men are being separated and detained for further investigation. There are also reports that some IDPs have had to pay US$300 in informal fees in order to enter SDF-controlled areas. Most IDPs are being sheltered by host communities or placed in IDP sites. However, there are also reports that some IDPs are clustering in open areas. There is currently very limited onward movement to IDP sites in Al Hasakeh due to security restrictions.
An estimated 5,000 (1,000 families) of the 7,000 people recently displaced are reportedly being hosted by local communities in Gharanij town as well as Bahra and surrounding villages. A further 200 IDPs are reportedly sheltering in a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Gharanij. In addition, there are reportedly some 700 IDPs sheltering at the Hajin makeshift camp while a further 1,300 people are also estimated to be sheltering in the makeshift Baeir Al-Bahra IDP site in the desert, approximately 15 km from Bahra village and 15 km north of Hajin. Reports suggest that the site is receiving an average of 20-25 new arrivals each day. According to a UN interagency assessment team which visited the site on 19 September, conditions are dire. In terms of WASH, there is no access to safe drinking water (with water sourced directly from the river without treatment) or latrines (a few ‘scattered pits’ have reportedly been dug outside the camp, with no privacy). There are no health facilities. Food is limited to two packs of bread per family per day. In terms of shelter, 25 tents have been set up. The site is reportedly fenced in and surrounded by four military observation posts, with IDPs allegedly facing severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. The UN is advocating with the Deir-ez-Zor Civil Council (DCC) to relocate these IDPs to Gharanij town where the majority of IDPs are located and which enjoys greater access to markets, health services and humanitarian assistance.
According to a recent report, IDPs in sites and informal settlements across northeast Syria (Ar-Raqqa, Al-Hasakeh and Deir-ez-Zor) face widespread challenges. With almost all residents of such sites sheltering in tents, the need for additional/replacement structures was highlighted in several sites, particularly with winter approaching. The conditions in informal settlements were reported to be particularly challenging, with reports of inadequate access to health assistance, livelihoods, WASH facilities and education. In Abu Khashab and Twahina informal settlements children reportedly have no access to education. Following a UN inter-agency mission to Twahina informal settlement on the 2 September, as well as an intention survey amongst displaced men, women and youth in the area (see previous report, Protection Section) the humanitarian community in Qamishly agreed to proceed with plans were to resettle 9,500 IDPs (1,900 IDP families) to the Mahmudli site in order to improve overall service provision.
Multiple infectious disease outbreaks continue to be reported across northeast Syria. During the reporting period 92 new cases of typhoid were reported in Areesha camp in Al-Hasakeh. This outbreak is thought to be due to the consumption of unsafe water and follows the ongoing acute bloody diarrhea outbreak in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. Similarly, during September, a further 242 cases of acute bloody diarrhea have been reported due to consumption from contaminated water sources.
On 18 April, the Directorate of School Health reported a measles outbreak particularly affecting school-aged children, with 83 new suspected cases of measles reported during September in Ar-Raqqa Governorate in addition to 28 suspected cases from Deir-ez-Zor Governorate.
Leishmaniasis also continues to affect people across Ar-Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Hasakeh governorates. Over the course of September 110 cases of leishmaniasis were reported in Ar-Raqqa Governorate, f 55 cases in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate and 129 cases in Al Hasakeh. Leishmaniasis has largely spread due to a lack of healthcare and health actors operating in affected areas.