Syrian Arab Republic: Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria Situation Report No. 2 - As of 26 December 2019
• Since 16 December, tens of thousands of civilians fled from southern Idleb governorate, moving further north due to renewed hostilities. Ma’arrat An Nu’man and its countryside are reportedly almost empty, more and more people from Saraqab and its eastern countryside are fleeing in anticipation of hostilities extending to their area.
• A 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 and Ariha, and to the IDP camps in northwestern Idleb. Others are reportedly moving to areas such as Afrin and A’zaz in northern Aleppo governorate seeking safety and access to services.
• 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. Since 16 December, 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, amplifying this wave of displacement as civilians. While Ma’arrat An Nu’man town and its countryside are now almost empty of civilians, people from Saraqab and its eastern countryside are now fleeing in anticipation of fighting directly affecting their communities next.
On 24 December, local sources reported an airstrike on a gathering site near Jobas village located south of Saraqab town.
Reports indicate that some 12 people died, of whom at least four were children and two were women, while numerous people were injured. Moreover, fighting between GoS forces and NSAGs continue in northwest Hama with shelling injuring tens of civilians including women and children, damaging residential areas, and resulting in civilians restricting their movement.
As a result of hostilities, tens of thousands of families fled their homes in an effort to reach safety. Between 12 and 25 December, more than 235,000 people have been displaced in northwest Syria. Many of these have moved out of Ma’arrat An Nu’man and other towns and villages in the area. People fled in early December as the airstrikes increasingly affected their communities. The newly displaced populations are predominantly moving north to urban centers such as Ariha, Saraqab and Idleb city, to IDP camps in northwest Idleb governorate along the Turkish-Syrian border, although thousands are also moving to Afrin, A’zaz, and Al Bab areas in northern Aleppo governorate. Some who fled from Ma’arrat An Nu’man area and sought safety in Saraqab are once again fleeing further north in anticipation of intensified fighting affecting Saraqab and its vicinity. In addition, tens of families have reportedly fled to GoS-held areas in Aleppo due to the intensification of hostilities.
The 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 as people move, give that many of the newly displaced have no means to cook. Of note, residents of Ma’arrat An Nu’man area are predominantly an urban population who are seeking shelter in other urban areas such as Ariha and Idleb city rather than IDP camps. As a result, public buildings such as mosques, garages, wedding halls and schools 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. Many of those who are displaced as a result of the most recent intensification of hostilities had been displaced previously, some of them multiple times. Being forced to move in winter months exacerbates existing vulnerabilities, particularly of the women, children, elderly, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.
Thousands of families in southeastern Idleb who want to move north are reported to be frightened to move, fearing the risk of airstrikes and shelling along the routes. The situation is further compounded by severe shortage of fuel for private vehicles and the limited number of drivers who are willing to take the risk. Efforts by local communities and NGOs are ongoing to assist civilians fleeing, while those who remain in the area, waiting to secure transportation, are likely the most vulnerable among the population with little resources. 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.
Many humanitarian actors in southeastern Idleb have been forced to suspend their operations in the areas, with many of them moving their services to areas further north where high numbers of IDPs are arriving. 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 between late-April and late-August 2019.