Syrian Arab Republic: Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria Situation Report No. 4 - As of 2 January 2020
• From 1 December 2019 to 1 January 2020, almost 300,000 people fled from their homes, mainly from southern Idleb governorate, moving further north away from the hostilities. Ma’arrat An Nu’man and its countryside are reportedly depopulated, while thousands of people from Saraqab and its eastern countryside fled in anticipation of hostilities extending to their area.
• Most of the recently displaced people moved to urban centres and IDP camps in northwestern Idleb. Tens of thousands have reportedly moved to areas such as Afrin and A’zaz in northern Aleppo governorate seeking safety and access to services.
• An unstable security situation prevails with daily reports of bombardments, affecting civilian infrastructure, such as schools and IDP camps.
• Displacement during winter is further exacerbating the vulnerability of those affected. Many who fled are in urgent need of humanitarian support, particularly shelter, food, health, non-food and winterization assistance.
With the latest escalation of violence in northwest Syria, civilians in Idleb governorate are again suffering from the devastating consequences of hostilities. In December 2019, aerial bombardment again intensified in southern Idleb, affecting large population centres such as Ma’arrat An-Nu’man and Saraqab as well as towns and villages in their countryside, which further accelerated displacement from the area that began in November. Ground fighting between NSAGs and GoS forces resumed on 19 December along the frontlines in southern Idleb governorate, with over 30 residential areas shifting to GoS control. While ground fighting subsided in late December, the unpredictability of the security situation left civilians with few options but to flee. As a result, tens of thousands of families fled ahead of the advance by the GoS forces while many others left their homes in anticipating of fighting directly affecting their communities next.
The lives of those who fled further north to find safety continue to be at risk due to the hostilities. On 1 January 2020, shelling hit a street in front of a school in Sarmin in Idleb governorate, reportedly killing ten civilians among whom were five children and a pregnant teacher. Local sources reported that the school building was partially being used to shelter newly displaced families from southern Idleb governorate.
In December 2019, almost 300,000 people were displaced -mostly in southern parts of Idleb- to reach safer areas in the north. Of those 298,354 people displaced in December, 80 percent are estimated to be women and children. The newly displaced populations have predominantly moved north within Idleb governorate to urban centers such as Ariha, Saraqab and Idleb city and -to a lesser degree- to IDP camps in northwest Idleb governorate along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Thousands of newly displaced people are also moving to Afrin, A’zaz, and Al Bab areas in northern Aleppo governorate.
No further displacement has been recorded into GoS-controlled areas since 20 families arrived in Jibreen in late December.
Immediate humanitarian assistance including food, shelter, winterization as well as health and psychosocial support is essential to support displaced individuals. In particular, ready-to-eat rations and cooked meals are a priority for people, given that many of the newly displaced have no means to cook. Moreover, reports of long queues at bakeries, particularly in camp areas in northwest Idleb are being reported due to the increase in the demand.
A significant proportion of the newly displaced people come from urban areas, and are seeking shelter in towns and cities, such as Ariha and Idleb city, rather than IDP camps. About 20 percent of the newly displaced people have sought shelter in camps whereas 30 percent are living with host families, 18 percent in rented houses and another 13 percent are living in unfinished buildings. As a result of this pattern of displacement, public buildings such as mosques, wedding halls and schools, as well as numerous garages and other substandard structures, are being used to host newly displaced families, however, the capacity to absorb people in need may surpass available places given the scale of displacement. A humanitarian response that is sensitive to the needs of this newly displaced population is necessary including in the provision of food assistance or shelter support.
The vulnerability of the newly displaced people as well as those previously displaced is further exacerbated by the winter weather. Heating, winter clothes and blankets are essential needs during this season, without which displaced people are more likely to resort to negative coping mechanisms. Moreover, for an urban population, coping with displacement is likely to be challenging as they would be unused to living in non-urban environments in a self-sustained manner.
The current emergency compounds an already dire humanitarian situation in Idleb area, may that be in camps or in urban areas. Between late-April and late-August 2019, an estimated 400,000 people had been displaced from northern Hama and southern Idleb mostly to areas in northern Idleb. This latest wave of displacement exacerbates the vulnerabilities as more and more people are forced to live in increasingly crowded camps or towns in northern parts of Idleb, adding to the various protection concerns.