The UN has urged all players in Syria to end hostilities in the northwest province of Idlib and the country as a whole immediately.
Speaking to the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah today, the UN regional spokesperson for the Syrian crisis David Swanson stressed that “The world needs to wake up and do something to stop the horrific suffering of these people. We continue to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and urge all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure the protection of the over 3 million civilians in Idlib and surrounding areas, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.”
He also added that half of the 3 million inhabitants of the province had already been displaced in the Syrian regime’s campaign to capture it. The UN’s most recent statistic of the displaced civilians was at a staggering 900,000 since the beginning of December, making it the largest number of displaced people in one place during such a short time period.
When asked how the UN views the possibilities of where the conflict could end up, Swanson said: “The situation on the ground remains fluid so it’s difficult to predict what will happen.”
He did, however, state that his organisation is expecting civilian casualties in Idlib to increase due to the rising intensity of clashes between all parties.
“Daily reports of air strikes and shelling has resulted in undue suffering for hundreds of thousands of women, children and men displaced after more than nine months of violence, violence which has already resulted in over 1,700 civilian deaths and scores more injured,” he said.
The province of Idlib, which is the last major opposition stronghold in Syria’s nine-year-long civil war, was originally meant to be a de-escalation or safe zone where displaced Syrian civilians and refugees could live away from the effects of the conflict, as stated under the agreement struck between Turkey and Russia back in September 2018.
That agreement, however, was violated by both the Syrian regime and its ally Russia when they launched a campaign in April last year. In recent months, the regime has made significant gains, especially with the support of Russian ground troops and Iranian forces, enabling it to retake around half of Idlib province so far, including key towns and cities and the strategic M5 highway.
The escalation of the violence has, Swanson said, created a humanitarian crisis in which the inhabitants of Idlib are severely lacking protection, shelter, food, sanitation, health, and education.
“As humanitarians, our main concern remains the safety and protection of the more than 3 million civilians caught up in the violence in Idlib and surrounding areas,” he stated, adding that “many of those who have sought shelter in camps, informal settlements or unfinished buildings have nothing but the clothes on their backs.”
With almost a million now displaced by the Idlib bombardment, they have been forced to flee their homes in the province to move further north towards the Turkish border.
Women and children make up more than 80 per cent of the displaced people and are living out in the open. Aid camps are full and so civilians have been forced to settle under trees and in snowy fields. At least six children have died of the cold.
This mass exodus of displaced Syrians has raised fears of a new wave of refugees into Turkey and subsequently into Europe. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously stated that the country is unable to bear the burden of another wave added onto the three to four million refugees it already hosts, and has warned that if Europe does not help with the Idlib situation then he will be forced to “open the floodgates.”