Turkey | Syria: Situation in North-western Syria - Situation Report No.1 (as of 29 March 2018)

Highlights

• The recent people moving from communities of eastern Ghouta in Rural Damascus Governorate joined the number who arrived since the middle of March 2018 from Al-Qadam neighbourhood in Damascus City, and bring to more than 30,000 people arriving to non-state armed groups (NSAG) held areas in north-western Syria.

• People arriving in north-western Syria from eastern Ghouta are being hosted in overcrowded reception centers and public buildings. Between the existing IDP population, the host community and the new arrivals, the resources of humanitarian organizations are overstretched with shelter capacity flagged as the most urgent gap.

• Humanitarian organizations have mobilized limited resources and are providing multi-sectoral assistance for the arrivals at entry points and further at NGO-run reception centers in north-western Syria.

• The Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Syria is only 7.6% funded. Many clusters are struggling to find resources to respond, using resources that were allocated to regular programming. This leaves critical financial gaps across all sectors, meaning that vulnerable populations are not receiving the assistance they urgently require, including shelter, protection, nutrition, health and sanitation and hygiene.

• Given that the resources of the humanitarian community are overstretched and that more evacuations are expected, additiional significant financial support is required to ensure an adequate and dignified response to the evacuees.

Situation Overview

Since the middle of March 2018, several evacuations from Al-Qadam neighbourhood in Damascus City and communities of eastern Ghouta in Rural Damascus Governorate to north-western Syria took place. Between 14 and 15 March, 1,351 people – including civilians, fighters and their families – were evacuated from Al-Qadam neighbourhood following a so-called local agreement parties to the conflict.

The UN is not party to any of the evacuation agreements and is not involved in the organisation of evacuations. As more people are expected to leave eastern Ghouta in the coming days, the UN reiterates that mass evacuations of civilians have to remain a last resort, as mandated by international humanitarian law. The UN emphasizes that in the case of evacuations, guarantees that ensure the safe and voluntary exit of civilians need to be put in place, including the freedom of movement of IDPs and their ability to return to their homes, if desired. Standards for evacuation have been provided to parties to support protection sensitive processes.

In parallel with the evacuations from Al-Qadam neighbourhood, negotiations between the parties to the conflict in Harasta town in eastern Ghouta culminated in an agreement, which included the evacuation of people from the town to north-western Syria. Subsequently, two convoys carrying 5,204 individuals left Harasta town to north-western Syria between 23 and 24 March. Meanwhile, a similar agreement was reached in Arbin/Ein Terma/Jobar neighbourhood/Hezzeh, which leading to several evacuations to north-western Syria. Between 25 and 29 March, 24,639 people were evacuated from Arbin town to north-western Syria, with an unknown number of evacuations from Arbin town expected to happen in the coming days.

While agreements for evacuations have been reached for other areas of eastern Ghouta, the situation in the third and largest area of the enclave – Duma city – remains unclear. Local media reports indicate that negotiations are ongoing with no clarity to what the outcome might be. The UN currently estimates that there are 70,000 – 78,000 people trapped in Duma City.

The people who have arrived to date have been exhausted, having spent long hours on the buses. Many reported feeling stressed and traumatized from their experiences, with some of the children asking if they need to go to the basements to hide from the airplanes. Most people arrived with only the clothing they stood in, and many reported not having washed or changed their clothing in weeks.

In response to the rapid influx of people resulting from local agreements in eastern Ghouta and the Al-Qadam neighbourhood, an inter-cluster response was activated. Limited shelter capacity in Idlib was flagged as the most immediate urgent gap. People arriving in Idleb join almost one million IDPs already living there. There was a large IDP population in north-western Syria and the displacement which took place between the 15 December and 10 February (upwards of 385,000 people) has put an additional strain on the already overstretched resources of humanitarian organizations and host communities alike. Additional resources are needed urgently to provide shelter and a broad range of basic services for the new arrivals.

The Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Syria is only 7.6% funded. Many clusters are struggling to find resources to respond, using resources that were allocated to regular programming. This leaves critical financial gaps across all sectors, meaning that vulnerable populations are not receiving the assistance they urgently require, including shelter, protection, nutrition, health and sanitation and hygiene.

The response to the needs of those arriving in the north-west is a phased approach. An initial phase includes providing immediate assistance to the IDPs upon their arrival to the entry point to north-western Syria (Al-Madiq Castle town). Humanitarian organizations have mobilized teams at the entry point to Idlib to carry out distributions of light meals and drinking water for new arrivals. Ambulances and buses are being provided to transport IDPs to the NGO-run reception centers. Another phase of the response is provision of assistance, including basic services, at NGO-run reception centers and IDP camps. There are four NGO-run reception centers in north-western Syria, two of which are located in Idleb governorate and two in northern rural Aleppo.

While some of the new arrivals have made their own shelter arrangements through friends and family in north-western Syria, many rely on the NGO-run reception centers as their initial place of shelter before exploring other options. The last update by the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster showed that the Mezanaz reception center is currently hosting 3,507 people, which is well above its estimated capacity of 2,000 people. The same applies to the reception center in Maaret Elekhwan town, which has a capacity for 1,600 people but which is currently hosting 2,229 people. Despite the large numbers, humanitarian organizations are providing multi-sectoral assistance to the IDPs at the reception centers, with no gaps reported by the CCCM Cluster.

As both receptions centers are currently at full capacity after receiving the IDPs from Harasta town, humanitarian organizations have started identifying alternative options, such as public buildings in the communities across northwestern Syria. Additional sheltering options are being organized, including using public buildings and the people who move there will receive assistance from the NGOs active in the community.

Additionally, 76,678 individuals have left besieged eastern Ghouta through corridors established by the GoS and Russian Federation. Most are being hosted in eight collective shelters across Rural Damascus, which include schools, warehouses and other buildings. Authorities require that IDPs proceed to collective shelters and are not permitted to leave, until they have undergone a screening process. To date, 29,609 individuals have received official permission to leave and settle in alternative housing arrangements, while 47,069 vulnerable IDPs continue to be held at the shelters. The United Nations and humanitarian partners continue to extend humanitarian assistance to the affected population in the shelters. More information on the response can be found here.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.