U.N. agencies report hundreds of thousands of civilians in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib are facing a humanitarian emergency and are in desperate need of life-saving assistance. The United Nations is appealing for $336 million to assist 800,000 people over the next six months.
Many of the more than three million people in battle-scarred Idlib are in a state of perpetual motion. Relentless bombing by Syria and its Russian ally is forcing tens of thousands of people to flee in search of refuge. But there are no safe zones.
Countries bordering Syria have repeatedly closed their borders, forcing people caught up in the violence to keep moving in this area where no open escape routes exist.
Over the past two months, spokesman for the U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, says more than half-a-million people, most of them women and children, have been displaced from their homes. He says many flee with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
"They say there are no safe places in Idlib. Bombs fall everywhere and anywhere. Even those fleeing the front-line areas are not safe. There is just a sea of people moving in all directions as the airstrikes and shelling has continued throughout the last two months,” he said.
The U.N. human rights office has recorded at least 83 civilians, including 20 women and 33 children who have been killed over a 10-day period between January 20 and 30. The agency reports escalating fighting has killed more than 1,500 civilians over the past nine months. That is when Syrian forces began an all-out military assault to retake Idlib, the last rebel-held bastion in the country.
Laerke says Idlib’s hundreds of thousands of displaced are in urgent need of shelter, food, water and sanitation, as well as health care, emergency education and protection. He says the biggest challenge is providing shelter.
He notes thousands of people are crammed into schools and mosques. Many are in tents in the mud, exposed to wind, rain and freezing weather. He says humanitarians are working tirelessly around the clock to help these suffering people. But the scale of the crisis is overwhelming, and the aid available is not enough.