Silver Spring, MD--A new report identifies indiscriminate bombings as the overriding factor forcing millions of Syrians to flee their homes. Qasef: Escaping the bombing takes an intimate look at the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Based on interviews with Syrian refugees in July 2016, a document review, and expert interviews, the report identifies the large scale use of explosive weapons in populated areas as the most significant cause of the mass displacement of Syrians. More than 10.9 million Syrians have been affected, equivalent to more than half of the country’s population.
Syrians interviewed for the report said they were subject to multiple displacements within Syria—up to 25 times after successive attacks—before seeking refuge abroad. Repeated displacement causes extreme poverty and serious psychological distress.
“War does not justify everything,” says Anne Héry, head of advocacy at Handicap International. “There are international rules that must be enforced, such as the law requiring belligerent parties to protect civilians from the effects of war. Attacks using explosive weapons with a wide-area impact in populated area have indiscriminate effects. All States have a responsibility to ensure that international humanitarian law is upheld and enforced.”
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the main cause of civilian deaths. In 2012, according to a study released by the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) and cited in the report, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas was responsible for 48% of civilian casualties. That figure rose to 83% in 2016.
Some weapons, such as barrel bombs and elephant rockets are indiscriminate by nature. Their lack of precision causes large numbers of civilian casualties. The report also underlines the seriousness of the injuries caused by these attacks: 47% of people injured by explosive weapons have complex fractures.
“Combined with the absence of appropriate medical care and psychological support in Syria, this practice has had a devastating effect on people’s lives,” Héry notes. “With more than 1.5 million casualties in Syria, an entire generation is going to suffer the sequelae [of these injuries] for many years to come.”
Syrians who were not directly affected by the attacks are also forced to flee in order to rebuild their lives: bombing destroys key infrastructure (homes, hospitals, water and electricity networks, etc.) and social and economic life.
“Weapons clearance will take decades in Syria, which is highly contaminated by explosive remnants of war,” Héry adds. “The parties to the conflict must immediately end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, particularly weapons with a wide-area impact. The international community must take action against this practice, which has become the rule in the Syrian conflict.”
In September 2015, Handicap International launched an international campaign to end attacks on civilians. The organization is calling on States to sign a political declaration to bring an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to recognize the suffering of civilians. To this end, the organization has co-founded the INEW (International Network on Explosive Weapons) coalition of international and national organizations.
Qasef: Escaping the bombing is based on interviews recorded in Jordan in July 2016, with Syrian refugees from Aleppo, Damascus and the surrounding region, Deraa and Homs, as well as a review of existing literature on the crisis, and interviews with managers of international organizations.
Handicap International and the Syrian crisis
Handicap International has helped more than 600,000 people since the launch of the organization’s Syrian crisis operations in 2012. Teams provide physical rehabilitation services and psychological support, and distribute emergency aid to meet the basic needs of casualties, people with disabilities, and vulnerable individuals, in particular. Handicap International also issues awareness-raising and safety messages targeted at local populations to prevent accidents caused by explosive remnants of war.
Previous Handicap International reports about the Syrian Crisis
- Syria, A mutilated future (June 2016)
- Kobani: a city of rubble and unexploded devices (May 2015)
- The Use of Explosive Weapons in Syria: A Time Bomb in the Making (May 2015)
- Hidden victims of the Syrian crisis: disabled, injured and older refugees (2014)
To link your audience to Handicap International’s Syrian crisis donation form, visit http://www.handicap-international.us/helpsyria
To share the Stop Bombing Civilians petition, visit http://www.handica p-international.us/stop_bombing_civilians