Syrian Arab Republic: Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria Situation Report No. 1 - As of 23 December 2019
Since 16 December, tens of thousands of civilians have fled from Ma’arrat An-Nu’man area in southern Idleb governorate, moving further north due to renewed hostilities. Thousands of others in southern Idleb are reportedly waiting for the bombardment to ease and find transportation to flee, fearing that hostilities would affect their communities next.
Volatile security situation along the access routes north and the shortage of fuel in Idleb area are limiting the movement of civilians fleeing the hostilities. Most of the recently displaced people are going to urban centres such as Idleb city, Saraqab and Ariha and to IDP camps in northwestern Idleb. A smaller number of civilians are reportedly heading to areas in northern Aleppo governorate.
Displacement happening in winter months is further exacerbating the vulnerability of people in need. Many of those 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. Since 16 December, aerial bombardment has once again intensified in southern Idleb, affecting large population centres such as Saraqab and Ma’arrat An-Nu’man as well as towns and villages in the countryside of Ma’arrat An-Nu’man, which further accelerated displacement from the area that began in November. Moreover, ground fighting between NSAGs and GoS forces also resumed on 19 December along the frontlines in southern Idleb governorate, amplifying this wave of displacement as civilians are fleeing in anticipation of fighting directly affecting their communities next.
As a result of hostilities, tens of thousands of families fled their homes to get out of harm’s way and to reach safety. While the exact numbers of those displaced are difficult to ascertain at this early stage, the humanitarian community tracked 130,000 displacements since 11 December. The majority of those displaced are moving north to urban centers such as Ariha, Saraqab and Idleb city, and to IDP camps in northwest Idleb governorate along the Turkish-Syrian border. Moreover, as the aerial bombardment affected towns further north such as Saraqab, those who thought that they had made it out of harm’s way once again decided to move even further to northwestern Idleb. On 21 December, a UN negotiated humanitarian pause in airstrikes between 06:00 and 12:00 which facilitated the movement of thousands of people to flee.
Many of these displaced families had been under aerial bombardment for several days and risked using the road regularly affected by airstrikes and shelling to move. Therefore, immediate humanitarian assistance including food, shelter, winterization as well as health and psychosocial support is essential to support displaced individuals. In particular, readyto-eat rations and cooked meals are a priority since many of the newly displaced do not have any means to cook the ingredients provided in food baskets.
Thousands of families in towns and villages in southeastern Idleb want to move north but are scared to do so due to airstrikes and shelling in their vicinity and along the roads. The situation is further compounded by severe shortage of fuel for private vehicles as well as the limited number of drivers and vehicles who are willing to take the risk. Efforts by local communities and NGOs are ongoing to assist civilians who are fleeing while those who remain in the area, waiting to secure transportation, are likely the most vulnerable among the population with little resources. Moreover, internet and phone services are subject to frequent disruptions, leading to communication gaps with the remaining population who would like to move as well as with the humanitarian workers remaining on the ground.
The majority of humanitarian actors in southeastern Idleb have suspended their operations, and many of them are moving their services to areas further north that receive high numbers of IDPs. This new wave of displacement is compounding on the ongoing emergency situation in northwest Syria that resulted in the displacement of an estimated 400,000 people since May 2019. Moreover, the displacement is taking place during winter, exacerbating the vulnerability of IDPs and stressing further the importance of swift provision of winterization assistance.
Among the affected population are extra vulnerable people, such as the elderly, the ill, and people who have moved multiple times. In addition to the people who are moving, there are families who have chosen to stay behind. Some have assets and animals they want to tend, others have expressed that they have given up hope and will stay. Some families have split and sent their children and women ahead, while the men and older children find ways to move the family’s worldly possessions.
On 23 December, twenty families fleeing Ma’arrat An-Nu’man in Idleb Governorate arrived in the eastern suburbs of Jibreen in GoS-controlled Aleppo City through Al-Tayha crossing point in Menbij district. These were the first group of families arriving in Aleppo since the escalation of hostilities. Assistance is being provided. No civilian movement has reportedly been observed through Abul Thohur crossing point in Aleppo.
The M5 road connecting southern Idleb to northern areas was damaged as a result of airstrikes; with traffic down to one lane at least in one location. The lack of vehicles is compounded by the lack of fuel in Idleb Roads out of Ma’arrat AnNu’man, including the M5 highway, and other secondary roads to the north are reportedly being hit by airstrikes.