GENEVA - As Syria’s war enters its 10th year, the United Nations reports that alarming conditions of extreme deprivation and danger continue to engulf millions of people in the country.
Most at imminent risk of their lives are the 960,000 people displaced in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, where Russian-backed Syrian forces are fighting to regain control of this last rebel-controlled region in Syria.
This huge displaced population, most of whom are women and children, is squeezed into an overcrowded area near the Turkish border. The United Nations reports about one-third are staying in camps and tents. Many are living with host families. Hundreds of thousands of others are in unfinished buildings, collective centers or sheltering under trees, with little cover to protect them from the elements.
Spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Jens Laerke briefed reporters Friday. He said there has been a de-escalation of fighting in Idlib since Turkey and Russia agreed to a cease-fire a week ago. However, he notes the dangers have not gone away.
"Instances of shelling continue to be reported from areas along the front lines and the risk of death and injury from explosive hazards, such as unexploded ordnance, has increased over the past months due to artillery and aerial bombardments. Humanitarian needs are acute and people’s survival and wellbeing, including children’s mental health, is at risk,” he said.
Laerke said there is very little protection inside Idlib, and displaced women and girls are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. He said many feel exposed and unsafe.
"Aid workers are reporting incidents of exploitation and abuse of displaced women and girls by men in positions of power such as property owners, in exchange for cash or material assistance. We also have reports of women not being able to shower for several weeks due to lack of privacy, and refusing to eat or drink so they do not need to use a bathroom,” Laerke said.
The U.N. is scaling up its humanitarian assistance in response to this situation. So far this month, Laerke said the U.N. has sent 512 trucks across the border from Turkey into Idlib laden with food, shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene assistance.