Millions of civilians trapped in Idlib face the prospect of the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in Syria’s seven-year war, should there be a major military escalation in the country’s North West. Eight leading aid agencies are calling on world leaders meeting Friday to urgently work together to avoid this horrific scenario.
The presidents of Iran, Russia, and Turkey will meet in Tehran to discuss the situation in Syria, and later in the day a similar discussion will take place, in New York at the United Nations Security Council. In both meetings, participants, some of whom are actively involved in the conflict, must ensure they work together to uphold international humanitarian law and human rights, protect civilians, including aid workers, and civilian infrastructure, and allow unimpeded access to humanitarian agencies.
Aid agencies working in the governorate are already overwhelmed trying to provide shelter, food, water, schooling and healthcare across communities that have already doubled in size, having welcomed almost 1.5 million people displaced by the conflict. Many of those families arrived in Idlib having left areas previously retaken by Government forces, and with little more than the clothes on their back.
Once again, it will be the most vulnerable who will pay the heaviest price, with women, children, and the elderly in Idlib unlikely to be able to move to safety. Healthcare facilities, schools, water sources and other vital infrastructure in Idlib have already sustained heavy damage in this conflict, and pushed aid workers to work in difficult circumstances. Additional airstrikes and bombings will push already stretched resources to the brink.
In the event that aid organizations are forced to freeze their operations as a result of an offensive, vulnerable civilians will be left without vital humanitarian support. Meanwhile organizations operating from government-controlled areas currently lack access to Idlib and funding to meet the full range of humanitarian needs.
It is vital that world leaders take this opportunity to work together on a diplomatic solution that can protect civilians from a major increase in violence.
Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
Humanity & Inclusion
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
Save the Children
Jean-Pierre Delomier, Humanitarian Action Director at Humanity & Inclusion, made the following statement about the worrying humanitarian situation in Idlib, Syria on Sept. 6:
"While a major military offensive on Idlib is possibly under preparation, Humanity & Inclusion calls on parties to the conflict to spare civilians and allow full and unfettered humanitarian access. The number of Syrians forcibly displaced in Idlib from other areas in Syria, has brought the population in this small pocket of the country up to 3.9 million people. Many civilians who have been displaced in Idlib have already endured intense bombing and offensives in recent months in Eastern Ghouta, Northern Rural Homs, and South Syria.
"Individuals who are displaced struggle to find adequate, affordable accommodations, and many live in overcrowded camps or informal settlements without any protection from airstrikes, no sanitation, no clean drinking water, and a lack of basic services. Humanitarian personnel, and particularly medical facilities provide crucial services for the population at this time and must be protected, and allowed to function. Moderate estimates are that at least 500,000 people will be forced to flee should an offensive be launched.
"Humanity & Inclusion appeals to the international community to use its influence to urge parties to the conflict to stop bombing civilians and avoid a military offensive that would have deadly consequences for civilians. It is imperative that the international community support continued, coordinated humanitarian access to populations in need via the most direct routes."
Photo: Rarad, 10, lost her leg following a bombing in Syria. Here, she walks through a camp in the Governorate of Idlib, Syria, after receiving crutches and rehabilitation care from HI. (February, 2013)
A staff member from a Syrian organization that Humanity & Inclusion (HI) partners with died yesterday in Hamouriyeh, Eastern Ghouta. Shelling killed Mustafa, along with his wife and their two children – both under the age of 8. As today marks the 7th anniversary of the Syrian conflict, HI condemns, once again, the bombing and shelling of populated areas and calls on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians.
HI is deeply saddened by this loss of lives. As the Syrian crisis enters into its 8th year today, with no end to the conflict in sight, HI deems it unacceptable that civilians in Syria, including humanitarian workers, continue to be targets and victims of the armed conflict.
Hamouriyeh is a small town within Eastern Ghouta and is currently the site of intense bombardment. It is unclear whether Mustafa and his family were trying to flee the bombardment when they were killed, or if they were seeking shelter in a building that was hit by the shelling. Three other partner staff members were injured while trying to assist those who had been injured in the same area.
Mustafa worked as a risk education team leader for more than two years. His role was pivotal to informing and protecting his community from the risks associated with explosive hazards and explosive remnants of war. He managed a mobile team, which conducted outreach activities across different communities in Eastern Ghouta. Their sessions focused particularly on schools, teaching young Syrians how to spot these hazards, avoid them and report them to adults. Children are often injured or killed while playing with the remains of explosive hazards that are used during conflict.
“The risk education team were visiting communities on a daily basis until the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta intensified in February 2018,” explains HI Advocacy Director Anne Héry. “The escalation of violence prevented the team from doing their routine work. Many of the team members were displaced from their own homes, as their towns became increasingly unsafe, and it became too dangerous to move around the enclave on a daily basis. HI calls on the parties to the conflict in Syria to immediately stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and to ensure better protection of humanitarian workers. Civilians like Mustafa and his colleagues have been, and will continue to be most effective and efficient way to respond to humanitarian needs in such terrible conditions.”
Humanitarian workers provide life-saving assistance, but teachers, nurses, and other civil servants have also maintained services that are essential to a robust and functioning society. If and when control of areas changes, humanitarian workers must be allowed to stay and continue their work in all its forms, if this is their choice. With their continued presence, and protection, populations in need can be assured that essential services will be maintained.
Humanitarian access must urgently be granted across Syria to respond to the direct need of the population exhausted by 7 years of the conflict.
According to the UN office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reports indicate that the overall number of civilians killed in Eastern Ghouta between the February 18 and March 11, could have reached more than 1,100, while it is reported that more than 4,000 people have been injured. Although some civilian evacuations began on March 11, there are still hundreds of thousands of people who are trapped under bombardment and remain unable to flee or reach evacuation corridors. Humanitarian access must urgently be granted across Syria to respond to the dire needs of the population exhausted by 7 years of conflict.
Humanity & Inclusion’s fight against the bombing of civilians
HI launched its "Stop Bombing Civilians" campaign in March 2016. The campaign calls on states to take immediate action and develop a political declaration to reduce harm and increase the protection of civilians living through conflict. States must stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and provide assistance to victims including affected communities. The organization is asking members of the public to sign its international petition. Signatures will be handed in to the United Nations and policy makers in September 2018.
Humanity & Inclusion is the new name of Handicap International (as of Jan. 24).
Syria’s seven-year conflict has devastated the country, resulting in unprecedented population movements. More than five million Syrian refugees are living in neighboring countries, including more than one million in Lebanon. Mariam has been working as a physical therapist for Humanity & Inclusion in Lebanon ever since we launched our emergency response in the country. Below, she describes a day in her life supporting refugees.
Over time, Mariam has become accustomed to the human cost of war.
“I’ve seen a lot of people injured in the conflict over the years,” she explains. “What really strikes me is how, in general, they’re just as likely to be affected mentally as they are physically. It’s hard to see people looking so desperate. But I try to do what I can to make their lives easier.”
As winter settles over the Beqaa Valley, Mariam sets out on the same journey she has been making, five days a week, for the last five years. As one of Humanity & Inclusion’s physical therapists, she travels to the homes of Syrian refugees and provides them with rehabilitation care. Her outlook on the humanitarian crisis and her approach to working with refugees has changed over the years.
“I can remember when I started working here,” she says in the car on the way to visiting one of our beneficiaries in their shelter. “People were in dire need. A very high number of them were coming into Lebanon from Syria and there were hundreds, thousands of casualties. It was quite daunting.”
Mariam always knew she wanted to help refugees
“The refugees who need physical therapy care – I could have been one of them. Using my skills to help them just seems the right thing to do. I’m doing what I’d want them to do for me, if the shoe was on the other foot. I’ve come across so many people who have really benefited from our work. And working in the field every day, I’ve seen what a big difference we make to their lives.
Session after session, Mariam’s visits become part of the everyday lives of the organization’s beneficiaries. She’s also seen the situation change over the years.
“Most of the people I visit live in makeshift camps. They might have lived there for years, but their homes are still far from comfortable. They live in very tough conditions, and as the war grinds on, things are getting worse.”
“We’re starting to see different types of injuries and disabilities as well. I deal with a lot of routine injures now because refugees are more likely to live in precarious circumstances. For many people with chronic diseases, their health gets worse too, because they don’t have access to the care they need.”
Access to care is vital
As she arrives at the camp, before starting her first visit of the day, Mariam adds: “Very few organizations in the country offer services like physical therapy. But physical rehabilitation makes a big difference to the lives of conflict-affected people.”
“We absolutely have to do everything we can to help these refugees and to meet their essential needs as long as the conflict lasts and even once it’s over.”
Your gift today will help the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, including children with disabilities and those who have been injured by violent conflict. Humanity & Inclusion is on the ground at this very moment, assisting refugees inside Syria, as well as in neighboring Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. We are providing urgently needed emergency rehabilitation care, distributing walking aids, providing psychosocial support, and supporting hospitals in the care of wounded civilians.
Please, join us in supporting the innocent victims of this devastating civil war. By making a gift now, you are giving them new hope for a better future.
“We left our country when the conflict began,” Hiyam tell HI’s team in Lebanon about fleeing the violence in Syria. “We didn’t want our sons and daughter to grow up with the war. When we arrived in Lebanon, we thought we’d be safe. Then one day, on my husband Talal’s way home, a car came out of nowhere and plowed into him. My daughter was also in the car and she’s still very traumatized by the accident.
They took my husband to the hospital where he spent a month in intensive care. The doctors told us he wouldn’t survive, or if he did, he wouldn’t remember anything. They also said he’d be totally paralyzed for the rest of his life. I remember the first time I visited him in his hospital room. He looked like he was dead. I was devastated.”Read more
Three-year-old Hamad is from Syria. After fighting broke out in his country, his family took refuge in Jordan. Last year, Hamad was injured at home, leaving him with severe burns and unable to move his fingers. Since then, our teams have been providing him with rehabilitation care.Read more
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On October 17, the city of Raqqa, in Syria, was recaptured by military forces. Five months of fighting have caused a high number of civilian casualties and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.Read more