GENEVA - The United Nations is appealing for $500 million to provide humanitarian, life-saving assistance for 1.1 million civilians trapped in a war zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.
More than three million civilians are trapped in Idlib. Nearly one-third of this population or about 900,000 people have fled their homes over the past two months in search of a safe haven. But the United Nations says there is no safe haven in Idlib.
It says the ferocity of the military onslaught by Russian-backed Syrian government forces to regain this last rebel stronghold is forcing people to flee into an ever-smaller piece of land near the Turkish border. Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syrian Crisis, Mark Cutts, calls this a major protection crisis.
“The fighting is now coming dangerously close to the area where more than a million are living in tents and makeshift shelters," he said. "It is an extremely alarming situation because if airstrikes and shelling move any further into that area, we are no doubt going to see a real bloodbath, a real massacre of civilians in that area.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in nearly nine years of civil war. The U.N. reports more than 12 million people have been displaced, 5.5 million across the borders as refugees and 6.5 million internally. It notes well over one-third of the internally displaced are in northwestern Syria.
Cutts cites his biggest concern as the widespread, systematic targeting and bombing of densely populated civilian areas. He says entire cities, towns and villages have been emptied out. He says many hospitals, schools, marketplaces — even bakeries and water stations have been hit by air strikes and shelling in the last few months.
“There is a population now, which is terrorized and traumatized and living in fear," he said. "People have been fleeing in fear to the border area and what we have seen is the bombs have just been following them from place to place. And, these people feel abandoned by the entire world. They are dumbfounded that no one seems to be coming to their rescue.”
The U.N. secretary-general has been calling repeatedly for an immediate cessation of hostilities, as have other humanitarian leaders. So far, to no avail.
Cutts says the U.N. has a massive humanitarian operation under way but given the current emergency, it is not enough. He says the U.N. is appealing for half-a-billion dollars so it can scale up assistance to those in desperate need.
He says the beneficiaries of the appeal are the 900,000 people who already are displaced, plus another 200,000 at imminent risk of becoming displaced.