Idlib: Millions in Need of Protection. The World Must Act Now.
Since February 2019, the Syrian government, supported by Russia, hit densely-populated areas, medical and health facilities, schools, and bakeries in Idlib, the last major territory held by armed opposition groups in northwestern Syria along the border with Turkey. These attacks killed and injured scores of civilians and led to the displacement of at least 320,000 people. At least 15 health facilities have been reported to be damaged or destroyed and over 16 humanitarian organizations have suspended their operations since the beginning of May 2019.
Since 2011, 700,000 people have sought refuge in Idlib fleeing the violence in other parts of Syria; others were displaced, in some cases forcibly displaced as part of evacuation deals reached between the Syrian government and armed opposition groups, including in Homs, Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and Daraa. As a result, it is estimated that Idlib's population has reached 3 million, including 1.3 million internally displaced people many of whom are living in camps and relying on cross-border aid from Turkey.
In July 2017, Turkey closed its borders with Idlib following the capture of the province by the armed opposition group Hay’at Tahrir al- Sham. Given the siege and starvation tactics used repeatedly by the Syrian government against the civilian population in all of its major military offensives to capture territory from armed groups, the fate of millions of civilians in Idlib is now at risk.
No matter how much I describe to you how terrible the situation is, it is still an understatement.
Deliberate Attacks on Hospitals
The Syrian government, supported by Russia, is carrying out a deliberate and systematic assault on hospitals and other medical facilities in Idlib and Hama.
“Bombing hospitals carrying out their medical functions is a war crime. These latest attacks have eliminated vital lifelines for civilians in desperate need of medical care. This is part of a well-established pattern targeting medical facilities to systematically attack the civilian population and it constitutes crimes against humanity. The international community has so far utterly failed to protect civilians in Syria from the horrors of this conflict,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Research.
Staff from four hospitals in Idlib and Hama told Amnesty International that they had been targeted despite sharing their coordinates with the Syrian and Russian governments.
According to the UN and Syrian medical organizations, at least 15 hospitals have been reported to be damaged or destroyed in Idlib and Hama since the beginning of May. The escalation in attacks has also led to the displacement of 180,000 people. At least 16 humanitarian organizations have suspended some operations in Idlib due to the attacks, exacerbating an already dire situation where at least 1.5 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance. Read more.
Idlib in Numbers
More than 13
camps for internally displaced people
From Idlib to the world: We are still here
Blog post by Mohammad Yusra, a Syrian humanitarian worker and one of three million civilians currently in Idlib province, trapped between pro-government forces and the closed border to Turkey.,
In 2019, at least 1.5 million people were identified as needing humanitarian assistance in Idlib, lacking access to food, water and health care. Access to health care specifically is restricted as a result of ongoing air and ground attacks on hospitals, as well as limited medical resources.
Recently, the threat of kidnapping doctors for ransom has increased. Some doctors at Khan Sheikhoun hospitals have been kidnapped.
Internally displaced people live in camps across the area. In 2017, the Turkish government closed its border, preventing people in Idlib and elsewhere from seeking refuge in Turkey. As a result, several camps were set up in northern Idlib, close to the border, and these camps today host the largest numbers of internally displaced people fleeing the violence across Syria.
Many camps have restricted access to food and water, and inadequate heating during the winter. Numerous camp schools had to close due to lack of funding, leaving children with no education. Some camps have also witnessed raids and arrests by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), while others were exposed to shelling.
Tell Presidents Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani – the three Astana sponsors – to ensure that civilians are protected during any possible military attack on Idlib. These people have gone through a lot already. We must keep them safe.