People's Stories Peace

Millions of Congolese struggle to access aid as ongoing conflicts rob hope for peace
by UNHRC, NRC, OCHA, Unicef, agencies
29 Nov. 2019
As violence rises in DRC, UNHCR concerned for trapped civilians
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its humanitarian partners remain extremely concerned for the safety and security of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Beni Territory, after deadly violence and mass protests have cut off humanitarian access to the troubled region.
Tensions in this part of DRC’s North Kivu province have been rising since the launch of a government-led security operation against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) on October 30. Armed groups have been targeting civilians and displaced populations in the region, killing scores of people.
Growing estimates are that at least 100 people were reported to have been killed in violent attacks in the Beni region since November 2, with thousands displaced, the vast majority of them women and children. Additional mass displacements have been reported from Mbau and Oicha localities, north of Beni. People are taking refuge in the Beni town, in an attempt to flee attacks, and the ongoing fighting between the army of the DRC and ADF.
Information is difficult to verify, as the movement of humanitarian workers is restricted due to insecurity around the city and in the territory of Beni, as a result of violence. Alarming reports from the region suggest people being trapped and under threat from the armed groups, with daily reports of loss of life. Abductions and attacks on schools, health centres and indigenous communities are also on the rise.
UNHCR and its partners are calling for an urgent need to restore security to allow humanitarian agencies immediate access to support the affected population. Hundreds of households are currently sleeping in churches and schools.
Children are in need of immediate support, many of whom have lost their parents or have arrived unaccompanied. Forced recruitment by armed groups is a real threat to the safety of children. Women also face widespread sexual violence, abuse and risk of exploitation. We fear many more lives could be lost if humanitarian access as well as law and order is not immediately restored in the areas.
UNHCR works in and around Beni in the sectors of protection, shelter and coordination. We have been building emergency shelters for displaced populations, promoting peaceful co-existence between displaced people and host communities, and working with local authorities on gathering information about displaced persons’ profiles and vulnerabilities, in order to better respond to their protection and assistance needs.
According to official estimates, the city of Beni is home to almost half-a-million people. There are some 275,000 displaced people in the territory. With ongoing insecurity, many have been left stranded at the mercy of the armed groups.
The current insecurity adds to an already-complex displacement situation in North Kivu, with an existing 1.5 million internally displaced persons by the conflict and ongoing efforts to fight the deadly Ebola virus.
27 Nov. 2019
Civilians demand protection as deadly attacks by ADF armed group continue in eastern Congo, reports the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
Since the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) launched an offensive against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) on 30 October, the armed group has carried out a series of retaliatory attacks against civilians. According to the Kivu Security Tracker, at least 94 civilians have been killed in the Beni region since 4 November. The ADF has also kidnapped a number of civilians.
Increasing civilian casualties have prompted protests in Beni by locals demanding greater protection from the FARDC and the UN’s peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO. Following news of an attack that killed at least eight people on Monday, 25 November, the demonstrations turned violent, with protesters burning the Beni town hall and damaging buildings within a MONUSCO base.
Later that day, President Felix Tshisekedi chaired an emergency National Security Council meeting attended by the head of MONUSCO, Leila Zerrougui, during which the government authorized joint operations between the FARDC and MONUSCO.
The ADF, which has operated along DRC’s border with Uganda for more than 20 years, has a history of attacking civilians and perpetrating atrocities in retaliation for government offensives.
Since August 2018 the ADF has also been implicated in frequent attacks on medical facilities involved in treating a deadly Ebola outbreak in North Kivu Province.
As they battle the ADF, the FARDC and MONUSCO must ensure that the protection of civilians is prioritized. All attacks on civilians should be thoroughly investigated and any captured ADF leaders should be held accountable for atrocities perpetrated against the local population. The UN Security Council must also critically assess the growing threat facing vulnerable populations throughout the eastern DRC when it considers MONUSCO’s mandate renewal next month.
Oct. 2019
Hundreds of thousands who have fled violence in DR Congo, in desperate need, 11 aid agencies warn. (Reliefweb)
Hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo are in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medicines, 11 aid agencies warned today.
Five months on from a resurgence of horrendous violence people are dying every day from preventable diseases because of the appalling conditions they are living in, a statement from the agencies including the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam and Tearfund said. The situation is deteriorating as the approach of lean season has already doubled some food prices forcing more people to go hungry.
The majority of people who have been displaced are living with vulnerable host families, stretching already poor communities, with little or no resources, to breaking point. Others are living in cramped conditions in public places, such as churches and schools or barely surviving in overcrowded makeshift camps.
The agencies said that in some instances, up to 500 people are having to share one toilet, while others are having to drink dirty water that infects them with potentially deadly water-borne diseases. Many are sleeping on bare floors in flimsy shelters that offer very little protection from heavy rains. The conditions also increase the risk of sexual violence for women and girls.
Since May this year, hundreds of people have been killed during frenzied attacks by armed men in the Djugu and Mahagi territories with over 360,000 forced to flee for their lives leaving their entire villages destroyed. The aid agencies are calling for the protection of all civilians and an end to the violence. Almost all of the displaced people they spoke to had witnessed atrocities.
One woman, Marie, faced the unimaginable horror of losing her mother, two teenage daughters and infant sons - age three and two - who were all brutally beheaded by an armed group.
Marie said: “All my children have been beheaded. My mother too. The men came at 10 in the morning. Some were shooting in the air, while others cut off people’s heads with machetes and knives. They surrounded the village and burned all the houses. They murdered everyone who tried to flee and hunted down anyone hiding in the forest. It is a miracle I escaped.”
Another woman, Rachel, tragically lost her four children and husband, when they were attacked. She is trying to survive by working in the fields, but says she fears for her life every day.
Rachel said: “I came here (to the host community) a few months ago to escape the violence in my village. It was the second time I had to flee. I lost my four children and my husband because they were of a different ethnicity. Here, to live, I go to do daily work in the fields, but it’s not safe.”
The increased violence, which has multiple complex causes, has re-ignited tensions between different communities, with devastating consequences.
People are no longer able to travel to the market, for fear of being attacked. Many were about to harvest but have been forced to abandon their fields and crops. They have now lost a fourth agricultural season in a row, which, in a largely rural economy means no food or income.
The arrival of the lean season will put even more stress on what little food is available; in some places the price of beans and other staple food has already more than doubled. Nearly half of the population in the affected area is facing crisis levels of hunger.
Corinne N’Daw, Oxfam’s Country Director in DR Congo, said: “The situation is dire and many children are suffering from malnutrition. Most people have lost everything they own and have witnessed horrendous atrocities, now they face a deadly dilemma, do they go without food or risk their lives to go back to their fields.”
Since people are scattered across vast distances in remote areas, the 11 agencies said it is extremely challenging to reach all of those in need.
The majority of humanitarian need in DR Congo is not being met in Ituri and other conflict-stricken areas across the country, leaving many to die from illness, hunger or exhaustion. Lessons have not been learned from a previous crisis in 2018 when lack of funding and insecurity meant agencies were not able to reach all of those in need.
Ten months into 2019, DR Congo has only received 35 percent of funding needed, in a country where 15.6 million people are severely food insecure. The situation in Ituri is one of several humanitarian crises in DR Congo, including the Ebola outbreak, which was declared an international emergency three months ago.
Benjamin Vienot, Country Director for Action Against Hunger in DR Congo, said: “Aid agencies weren’t able to reach everyone who needed help during the last crisis in 2018 because of lack of funding and insecurity, which made access extremely challenging. We are now facing a similarly bleak picture.”
July 2019
The World Food Programme (WFP) has described the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as the world’s second largest hunger crisis in the world, after Yemen.
In addition to worsening hunger, communities in north-east DRC face a deadly Ebola outbreak and inter-ethnic clashes that claimed at least 117 lives between 10 and 13 June, according to a recent report by the UN human rights office, OHCHR.
WFP spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel warned that “people are dying of hunger, or, malnutrition is such that they are dying”. He added that although there is no accurate data on the total number of deaths from hunger in the Ituri province of the DRC, 13 million people are food insecure nationally, including five million acutely malnourished children.
The situation has worsened because of an increase in clashes between Hema herders and Lendu farmers that have driven people from their homes, along with rising food prices; a lack of income and access to a varied diet; and disease epidemics.
Addressing the rising violence, Mr. Verhoosel said: “This senseless cruelty comes right at harvest time, where the newly displaced have had to flee their homes in rural villages with very little or nothing”. He added that “many victims of this increase in violence are malnourished and have been forced to move numerous times…they are seeking security in urban centres and in the bush.”
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, inter-ethnic violence has led to the mass displacement of 300,000 people since June.
Together with North Kivu province, people in Ituri are also living through the DRC’s worst recorded Ebola virus outbreak.
In its latest Ebola update, the UN and authorities reported that since the outbreak began on 1 August 2018, 2,338 people have been infected with Ebola. A total of 1,571 people have died and 653 have recovered from the illness.
To help 5.2 million people across DRC for the next six months, the UN food agency said that it needs $155 million, including $35 million to respond directly to Ebola.
Multiple humanitarian crises are unfolding in Ituri province, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and hundreds of thousands of people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
The recent upsurge in violence across the regions of Djugu, Mahagi and Irumu have forced thousands to flee their homes. Despite MSF’s repeated calls on international aid organisations to scale up humanitarian aid, the majority of the displaced still haven’t received even the most basic assistance.
“This is not the first time there are urgent humanitarian needs in the area,” says Dr Moussa Ousman, MSF Head of Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “But this time we are seeing not only mass displacement due to violence, but also a rapidly spreading measles outbreak and an Ebola epidemic, all at the same time. This is unprecedented.”
Intercommunal violence has been increasing in Ituri since December 2017, and the large majority of people displaced as a result have been in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, some for more than a year. Since October 2018, MSF has conducted three mortality surveys in the locations of Drodro, Nizzi and Angumu. All showed that the mortality rates in these communities were far above emergency levels.
Mar. 2019
With the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) facing one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises in the world, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock have called for urgent and sustained funding to meet the needs of children, families and vulnerable communities.
"The relatively peaceful political transition taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is an opportunity that we must seize on. We can beat back the massive and protracted humanitarian crisis. But we urgently need donors to provide further generous funding as needs continue to outpace resources," said Mr. Lowcock, adding that DRC needs sustained international engagement to create the conditions for peace, security and long-term development.
While DRC has made progress in recent years in some areas, including a drop in the number of children dying before age 5 and larger numbers being enrolled into school, the overall humanitarian situation remains alarming. The number of people facing hunger jumped from 7.7 million in 2017 to 13 million last year. At least 4 million children are malnourished. Cholera, measles and Ebola continue to blight many lives.
"Severe acute malnutrition is expected to hit 1.4 million children under the age of five this year and put them at imminent risk of death," said Ms. Fore. "In conflict-affected areas of the country, children and young people have been recruited as fighters, sexually assaulted and denied education, health and protection services. Together, the international community and the new government can - and should - do better for children."
The acute humanitarian crisis in the country is made worse by sporadic conflict involving dozens of armed groups in parts of the huge country.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 12.8 million people are now food insecure in DRC, including 4.3 million malnourished children, of whom 1.3 million face severe malnutrition this year.
A number of armed groups continue to hamper access for aid teams, which are also tackling endemic cholera – which threatens two million people - combined with a new outbreak of Ebola virus disease in North Kivu and Ituri.
Dec. 2018
Millions of Congolese languish without aid - as the country heads towards elections. (Norwegian Refugee Council)
As the world turns its attention to the elections in Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Norwegian Refugee Council cautions not to lose sight of the millions of Congolese men, women and children whose humanitarian needs have yet to be met. "Regardless of the outcome of the election Sunday, the country and its leaders will have a challenging job ahead to be able to tackle the daunting humanitarian needs, and will depend on substantial support from the international community to avoid unnecessary loss of lives," said Pauline Ballaman, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This year alone, 1.4 million people have been forced to flee violence in DR Congo. At the end of 2017, there were already a total of 4.5 million people displaced in several parts of the country. The waves of displacement are mainly due to the re-emergence and escalation of violence around Congo''s eastern frontier, in Ituri and the Kivus. More than 13 million people depend on humanitarian assistance.
"Our teams on the ground see horrific violence daily and we are often struggling to keep up with the humanitarian needs. The scale of the crisis and the lack of sufficient support leave many people in need without necessary assistance."
Although there has been a security improvement for some pockets of the country such as the Greater Kasai Region and Tanganyika province where at least 1.5 million people have returned to their places of origin, security incidents have increased by 33 per cent between 2017 and 2018, according to the International NGO Security Organization (INSO).
Additionally, there have been over 530 security incidents targeting NGOs since the beginning of the year, translating into two incidents against humanitarian organizations per day.
The needs in DR Congo are daunting. Over 13 million people across the country are living on one meal or less a day. A fertile country, of which 70 per cent of the population live on agriculture, is struggling to produce food because farmers are constantly on the run and cannot access their fields for fear of being attacked, kidnapped or killed by armed groups.
As a result, local markets have suffered from food shortages while prices are skyrocketing, and 4.3 million children are malnourished.
Dec. 2018
OCHA: Global Humanitarian Overview 2019.
The humanitarian crisis in DRC is projected to remain acute, due to socioeconomic challenges and persistent conflict in parts of the country. Major humanitarian challenges remain. Due to declining agricultural activity, some 12.8 million people will face food insecurity, including 4.3 million malnourished children, of whom at least 1.3 million will be suffering from severe malnutrition.
The risk of epidemics will remain significant as well in the first quarter of 2019, with the persistence of cholera and the Ebola outbreak that was declared in August 2018 in North Kivu and Ituri. At least 8.5 million people are at risk of epidemics, including 2 million from cholera.
As a result of security improvement in parts of the country, some 2.9 million people should return to their areas of origin, exceeding the new displacements which are expected to be about 1.3 million. This massive return will create significant needs, especially in protection, health, agricultural production and livelihoods. However, insecurity will remain high in several parts of the country, and some 5.7 million people will also need protection, while 9.8 million vulnerable people will need multisectoral assistance related to the loss of access to essential services and goods.
This year’s humanitarian response plan will aim to assist 9 million of the most vulnerable people in DRC, significantly fewer than the total people in need. This gap is the result of factors such as access, funding constraints and operational capacities.
Spiralling violence puts millions at risk in Ebola-hit eastern DRC, reports UNHCR
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is alarmed by the latest escalation of violence in already volatile and Ebola-hit North Kivu province in east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The cumulative effect of conflict and the outbreak of the deadly disease is threatening millions of Congolese.
The fighting involving a number of armed groups operating in the area has intensified in all six territories in North Kivu, a province bordering Rwanda and Uganda. Thousands of civilians have fled their burned out villages, bringing reports of brutal attacks. The already dire humanitarian situation has been further aggravated by an outbreak of Ebola virus in parts of the province.
Forced displacement in this part of the country remains massive. It is estimated that more than a million people are displaced in North Kivu. This is the highest concentration of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the DRC. An estimated half a million people have been forced from their homes this year alone.
UNHCR is particularly worried about the deteriorating situation in the Ebola-hit northern territory of Beni. The area is home to some 1.3 million people. Spiralling conflict has left the population living there virtually in a state of siege since October 2017. Reports of increased human rights violations and restrictions of humanitarian access are frequent. Estimates are that more than 100 armed groups are active in the province, continually terrorizing the population.
Despite a large-scale military offensive of the Congolese Army against one of the main rebel groups, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) since January, there has been no let-up in the violence.
Despite security challenges, a UNHCR team accessed the area north of Beni earlier this month and conducted humanitarian assessments in Oicha and Eringeti districts. Residents told our staff about brutal attacks against the civilians carried out with machetes. Stories of massacres, extortion, forced displacement and other human rights violations are frequent.
Sexual and gender-based violence is rampant across the Beni territory. Many children are being recruited as child soldiers. The violence is particularly rampant in the so-called “triangle of death,” between the towns of Eringeti, Mbau and Kamango, on the Uganda-DRC border, as well as in the towns of Beni, Oicha and Mavivi.
UNHCR teams witnessed empty villages, countless torched and abandoned houses, as well as burnt cars. Those who fled found shelter mostly in Beni and Oicha, where both host and displaced communities fall prey to brutal and unpredictable attacks. Beni town hosts more than 32,000 displaced people, with the majority forced to live with host families or in schools or churches. More than two thirds have been forced to flee in the last three months.
UNHCR teams found the vulnerable displaced indigenous communities to be in some of the most critical situations. Forced out of their areas of origin in the forests, their living conditions in makeshift sites are abysmal. Families are sleeping rough, barely protected from the elements by their flimsy shelters.
They have few or no means of survival as they can no longer hunt in the forests, now under the control of armed groups. There’s a genuine risk of these people losing their culture and way of life.
UNHCR is scaling up its capacity in North Kivu to respond to the growing humanitarian needs. We are arranging additional emergency shelters and other humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the displaced in Beni. While UNHCR’s humanitarian response is continuing despite the outbreak of Ebola, the prevailing security situation and drastic funding shortfall severely hamper our efforts. UNHCR’s DRC 2018 appeal totalling USD 201 million is only 17 per cent funded.


Once again families and children find themselves caught in deadly violence
by OCHA, Mercycorps, NRC, OHCHR, Unicef, agencies
Nov. 2019
Syria: Fears for civilian population as key water plant remains out of action. (ICRC)
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is deeply concerned for the civilian population in north-east Syria amid an ongoing shutdown of a key regional water pumping station.
The Allouk pumping station, which usually serves more than 400,000 people in and around Hasakeh, has not been functional since October 30. The ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been taking emergency measures to find alternative sources of water for people in the region.
"It''s imperative that we find a solution to this nascent water crisis. A water station that serves 400,000 people is a critical piece of infrastructure that must be put into action. This is another example of civilians who are not taking part in conflict suffering from it nonetheless," said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC''s regional director for the Near and Middle East. "We call on all parties to ensure safe access to conduct any necessary repairs."
International Humanitarian Law aims at ensuring that basic needs of civilians are met, even in times of conflict. In north-east Syria, the infrastructure (e.g. water stations and dams) for water supply systems happen to be located near the frontlines, and it is critical that they are protected.
The ICRC and SARC are following the water situation and adapting their emergency response to help lleviate the impact as much as they can. In the week ending November 3, the ICRC distributed a total of 460,000 litres of drinking water and regular support to Al Hol Camp, Areesha Camp, centers for internally displaced people in Hasekah city, and places of detention.
The ICRC urges all parties to the conflict to respect civilian life by taking every possible measure to protect and respect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to allow safe passage for those who want to escape the fighting in search for safety.
8 Nov. 2019
Hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk in Syria amid ongoing violence in northeast and northwest. (UN News)
Almost daily violence targeting built-up areas and health facilities in Syria continues to threaten the lives of civilians there, UN rights experts and humanitarians said on Friday.
On Thursday, Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, warned that hundreds of thousands of people in northeast Syria have been left vulnerable following the Turkish military incursion.
“Of the more than 200,000 people who fled the fighting in recent weeks, close to 100,000 people have not yet been able to return home and are dispersed across improvised camps and collective shelters,” she said in a statement.
These recent displacements have compounded an already dire situation in which 710,000 people were already displaced, and approximately 1.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, Ms. Rochdi’s explained.
At least 92 people have been killed in northeastern and northwestern Syria in the weeks following 9 October, when Turkish forces invaded Kurdish-held border areas in the northeast, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR).
“Civilians continue to pay a very high price in the ongoing hostilities in Syria,” said OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville.
Noting that victims had come under fire from airstrikes and ground-based strikes, he added that people are increasingly being targeted by the “indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas, including in local markets”.
In a related warning, Mr. Colville said that people recently displaced during the military offensive have been “subsequently…subjected to arbitrary detention, in addition to enforced disappearances, after returning to their homes. This is occurring both in areas controlled by Turkish forces and Turkish-affiliated armed groups and in areas controlled by Kurdish armed groups.”
Idlib medics, health facilities, under fire
In Syria’s northwest, meanwhile, medical professionals continue to be at grave risk. Health facilities “continue to be directly hit or significantly damaged whenever there is a military escalation in Idlib”, OHCHR’s Mr. Colville said.
Just this week, “four separate facilities were damaged”, he noted, taking the total number of health facilities that OHCHR has recorded being hit since 29 April to 61.
“We can’t determine if every single attack is deliberate,” Mr. Colville added, “but the large scale of these attacks – as I say, 61 separate facilities, considerably more actual strikes hitting those facilities, given some of them were hit two, three, four times, and the fact that it’s happening every time there’s a military escalation strongly suggests that Government-affiliated forces are conducting these strikes are at least partly if not always deliberately striking health facilities. But I think we’ll have to…and of course, that would amount to a war crime.”
In a new development related to thousands of Syrians held by the Government, Mr. Colville explained that it was concerning that families have been receiving death notifications from the Government authorities.
“Basically telling them that their relatives, or family members who were detained or forcibly disappeared have died in custody.”
UN humanitarians meanwhile warned that a serious funding crisis risks leaving hundreds of thousands of Syrians vulnerable to deteriorating weather conditions.
“Of the $295 million we required in 2019, we have received just $138 million,” said Marixie Mercado, spokesperson, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF): “Despite the massive security, access and capacity challenges, this funding shortfall now represents the most serious obstacle we face in reaching children who need help urgently.”
Listing the many urgent interventions that would no longer be possible without that funding, Ms. Mercado explained that it would mean “not providing emergency water, sanitation and hygiene support to over 100,000 people, nor improving poor water supplies to 300,000 more. Not providing 55,000 children with routine immunization, and nearly 140,000 women and children with health and nutrition consultations.”
According to OCHA, the UN humanitarian coordinating office, the overall UN appeal requires nearly $3.3 billion but is only 52 per cent funded.
17 Oct. 2019 (DW, agencies)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the commander of the Kurdish SDF forces have agreed to a five-day ceasefire in the military offensive in northeastern Syria.
Following the agreement, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) Mazlum Abdi told the Kurdish Ronahi television station "we are ready to abide by the ceasefire" covering the area from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad.
However, he expressed uncertainty over other parts along the border that Turkey wants to include in the safe zone.
Following the ceasefire announcement, EU leaders repeated their call for Turkey to end its offensive on Kurdish forces in Syria and withdraw its troops.
"The European Council notes tonight''s announcement on a pause for all military operations. It again urges Turkey to end its military action, to withdraw its forces and to respect international humanitarian law," the leaders said in a summit statement.
Turkey launched its military operation in northeastern Syria last week, targeting the US-backed Kurdish-led militia alliance who have fought "Islamic State" (IS) militants in Syria after the United States withdrew from the border.
Mr. Erdogan said he wanted to create a 32-kilometer-deep, 480-kilometer-long (20-mile by 300-mile) "safe zone" inside Syria along the border to ''protect'' its security and provide room to resettle millions of Syrian war refugees now in Turkey. Some commentators have described the action as ''ethnic cleansing''.
15 Oct. 2019
Humanitarian Aid urgently required in areas affected by Conflict in Syria: IOM Director General
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Syria, where heavy fighting is displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.
According to humanitarian partners, an estimated 190,000 people have fled their homes in northeast Syria since the latest round of military operations began last Wednesday.
“All parties to the conflict must adhere to International Humanitarian Law. Humanitarians must be allowed access to the displaced in order to provide urgent medical and lifesaving assistance,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino.
Many of Syria’s 6.1 million internally displaced have been repeatedly forced from their homes, in some cases after they have returned to their communities. Between May and August of this year, fighting displaced an estimated 400,000 Syrians in the northwest of the country.
“The cycle of successive displacement is particularly concerning. Continued military operations will have devastating consequences for the seven million people living in Northern Syria,” DG Vitorino added.
United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and the United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Karen Smith, also expressed their alarm over the current situation in northeast Syria following the launch of a military operation by Turkey on 09 October.
The Special Advisers stated that “the civilians of Syria continue to live through one of the worst conflicts of our time, with repeated violations of their basic rights and protections guaranteed under international law. This latest escalation of the conflict again puts civilians at grave risk.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported on a number of civilian casualties, including allegations of summary executions, and humanitarian actors report that nearly 200,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the military operation.”
The Special Advisers stress that Turkish authorities and all parties to the conflict in Syria need to ensure strict adherence to the legal obligation to protect civilians. This is the responsibility of all State and non-State actors.
No civilian should be forced to leave their home against their will. In addition, any return of refugees needs to be voluntary and when conditions are safe for them to do so sustainably.
The Special Advisers also urged the international community, and the Security Council in particular, to do more to uphold the responsibility to protect civilians in the Syrian conflict.
The repeated failure of the Security Council to speak with a united voice and to take action to protect civilian populations at risk of serious violations goes against the responsibility to protect principle, a commitment made by all Member States.
The Special Advisers reiterated calls for de-escalation and for a political solution to the Syria crisis stating that “far too many civilians have already been victims of atrocity crimes in Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011 and millions of Syrians remain at risk of these crimes.
Until there is a sustainable political solution to the crisis, one in which all communities in the country have a voice and their rights can be protected, the risk of atrocity crimes remains a reality”.
Following the launch of Turkish military operations and the extremely volatile situation in northeast Syria, international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuate all its international staff from northeast Syria.
These have been extremely difficult decisions, as MSF is very aware of the needs of fleeing and vulnerable people in the region.
However, the highly unpredictable and fast-changing situation at present has made it impossible for MSF to negotiate safe access to deliver healthcare and provide humanitarian assistance to people in distress. Given the numerous groups fighting on different sides of the conflict, MSF can no longer guarantee the safety of our Syrian and international staff.
“The people in northeast Syria have already endured years of conflict and uncertainty. The latest developments have only increased the need for humanitarian assistance, yet it is impossible to deliver it with the current insecurity,” says Robert Onus, MSF Emergency Manager for Syria.
“It is with a heavy heart that MSF has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuate its international staff out of northeast Syria. We cannot operate at scale until we can gain the assurances and acceptance of all parties to the conflict that we can operate safely.
The decision to suspend the majority of MSF’s activities comes as the humanitarian situation spirals further out of control and needs are likely to increase.
Today, as MSF teams depart, we have heard from our staff that the people in Ain Issa camp are severely lacking food, water and medical assistance. Just last week, MSF teams were providing healthcare and, supplying water and mental health support to people living in the camp. Now they are left in a very precarious situation and we are extremely worried for their wellbeing.
MSF calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians. We further call on them to provide humanitarian organisations with safe and unhindered access to the civilian population so they can deliver assistance, at a time when it is urgently needed.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): “We estimate that nearly 70,000 children have been displaced since hostilities in northeast Syria escalated nearly a week ago. At least 170,000 children could require humanitarian assistance due to the violence.
As violence continues to escalate, UNICEF renews its calls on all parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them to protect children at all times. Those fighting in the northeast and elsewhere in Syria must protect civilian infrastructure and not use it for military gains.
During the course of the offensive or defending against it, all parties should take action to a avoid attacking areas where civilians, including children may be found; prevent children from being separated from their caregivers; and allow unimpeded access by independent humanitarian organizations to deliver life-saving assistance to children and families affected by the conflict.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO): “Already weakened health services in northeast Syria have been severely impacted by the latest developments. The national hospital in Ras Al-Ain is currently out of service, and the national hospital and two health centres in Tel Abyad are also currently non-functional.
Health facilities in camps hosting displaced people in Ain Issa and Ras al Ain have also been evacuated, with additional facilities under threat as the conflict rapidly escalates.
A number of health partners have already suspended services due to insecurity, further disrupting access to essential health care services.
WHO calls on all parties to the conflict to preserve the right to health of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in northeast Syria and comply with international humanitarian law to protect all civilians including health-care workers and patients.”
Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP): WFP calls on all parties to ensure that vital supply routes are kept open and safe for humanitarian deliveries. Without such access, people in need across Syria would be in grave danger.
10 Oct. 2019 (UN News)
A de-escalation of renewed conflict in northern Syria is “absolutely essential,” the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday. His comments follow the launch of airstrikes and a ground offensive by Turkey.
The UN chief said that he did not “believe in military solutions for the Syrian problem, also for any other problem in the world. I always strongly believe in political solutions.”
He also expressed concern over the humanitarian situation and civilian displacement. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR said earlier that tens of thousands of civilians were on the move to escape the fighting.
European Union countries on the UN Security Council expressed their deep concern in a statement calling on Turkey to “cease the unilateral military action”, which they believe will not address the country’s underlying security concerns.
“Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements which will further increase the number of refugees and IDPs in Syria and in the region,” said German Ambassador Jurgen Schulz.
Civilians ‘must not be a target’, urges UNHCR, following military escalation in northern Syria.
UNHCR is calling on all sides to respect international human rights law, which includes providing access to aid agencies supporting people in need.
“Hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern Syria are now in harm''s way. Civilians and civilian infrastructure must not be a target,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.
UNHCR warns that the situation risks causing more suffering in addition to adding to what is already the largest displacement crisis in the world, with more than five million Syrians living as refugees while another six million are internally displaced.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said “a military escalation would have dramatic consequences on the ability of humanitarian actors to provide assistance and protection to thousands of vulnerable children.”
Any new military campaign may lead to insecurity and chaos which could create circumstances for the resurgence of the extremist group ISIL, or Daesh, according to the members of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry investigating violations committed in the eight-year long Syrian crisis. “The last thing Syrians need now is a new wave of violence,” they stated.
Oct. 2019
15 aid agencies warn of humanitarian crisis in North-East Syria - Civilians at risk as violence escalates and humanitarian work is suspended. (Reliewfweb)
Reports from humanitarian responders on the ground say civilians are already on the move and that some vital services have been interrupted, including medical facilities and water supplies. Agencies say that some of their staff have fled with their families, while others are on lockdown.
An estimated 450,000 people live within 5km of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritise the protection of civilians. The population includes more than 90,000 internally displaced people, who have already been forced to flee their homes at least once in Syria''s unrelenting war.
According to UN OCHA, there are at least 1,650,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance in north-east Syria. The life-saving humanitarian response will be threatened if instability forces aid agencies to suspend or relocate their programming and staff, as is already happening.
With an ongoing major crisis in Idlib and huge needs across the country, the aid response in Syria is already stretched to breaking point.
The 15 aid agencies are urging parties to the conflict to fully respect International Humanitarian Law and ensure that they refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas.
They must ensure all measures are taken to protect civilians and facilitate safe, unhindered humanitarian access. People living in the area affected by this military action have the right to freedom of movement and must not be forcibly displaced from their homes.
Likewise, there must be no forcible returns of refugees living in Turkey to Syria. Anyone returned could face threats to their safety and security, continued internal displacement and reliance on humanitarian assistance that the international community is not in a position to provide.
According to the Government of Turkey, an estimated 83 per cent of the three million Syrians in Turkey do not originate from the north-east.
The international community must emphasize the need for restraint and reiterate importance of protecting civilians and facilitating unimpeded humanitarian operations. All children must be protected and provided humanitarian assistance.
Urgent action is needed to ensure that the humanitarian situation in north-east Syria does not worsen further, with potentially dire consequences for families and children who find themselves once again caught up in deadly violence.
Civilians face imminent threat as Turkey attacks northeast Syria - Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Earlier today, 9 October, Turkish military forces launched military operations in northeast Syria. At the time of publication Turkish forces were carrying out airstrikes and directing artillery fire against the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The current military situation is unclear, but a Turkish ground invasion would pose a grave and immediate threat to Kurdish and other Syrian civilians in the northeast. Human rights activists and Kurdish representatives have expressed fears of “ethnic cleansing” potentially being perpetrated by Turkish forces.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously warned that Turkey would pursue unilateral military action in northeast Syria if the United States continued to delay implementation of a proposed “safe zone” in the area. On Sunday, 6 October, President Donald Trump announced the immediate withdrawal of US troops from northeast Syria, effectively allowing Turkish forces to pursue this long-planned operation in the region.
During the United States-led international military campaign against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL), the SDF did the majority of the fighting on the ground in Syria. YPG fighters constitute the majority of the SDF and also played a key role in protecting the Yazidi population in neighboring Iraq during the 2014 genocide perpetrated by ISIL. US forces worked closely with the SDF in anti-ISIL operations and the SDF have officially denounced the US decision to withdraw as "a betrayal." Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist organization” and considers an independent Kurdish homeland in northeast Syria as a threat to Turkish national security.
Turkey also plans to resettle up to two million Syrian refugees who are currently in Turkey to a “safe zone” in northeast Syria after it has been “cleared” of the YPG and SDF. Panos Moumtzis, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, has emphasized that “for us as the United Nations, the safe zone concept is one that we have a bitter history [with] and actually we never promote or encourage. We don’t think it is something that had worked for the United Nations, keeping in mind Srebrenica and what had happened in the past.”
Under international law, returns of refugees and other displaced persons must be undertaken in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement and must be safe, voluntary and dignified. Turkey’s planned forced repatriation of Syrian refugees into a northeastern “safe zone” would appear to meet none of these criteria.
The international community must respond to the threats posed by the Turkish offensive. All parties in northeast Syria must strictly adhere to International Humanitarian Law and uphold their obligations to protect civilians.
Aug. 2019
More children killed in Idlib in last four weeks than all of 2018 reports Save the Children
The number of children killed in Idlib in the last four weeks has exceeded the total for 2018, Save the Children and its partner organization Hurras Network have found, as the latest escalation of fighting claimed the lives of eight children on Monday.
The escalation in violence which started at the end of April has now resulted in the deaths of at least 400 people, including 90 children, and displaced 440,000 people. Save the Children and Hurras Network can confirm that at least 33 children have been killed since June 24th, compared to 31 children killed during all of 2018.
This week has been the deadliest since fighting escalated in northwest Syria – which is home to 3 million people. Multiple airstrikes and shelling have left more than 66 people dead and hundreds injured. Bodies, some torn into pieces or burnt beyond recognition, are still being recovered from the rubble.
Many of the victims are women and children, some of them suffering the most horrific injuries, according to the UN and field reports.
“The current situation in Idlib is a nightmare. The injuries we are seeing are horrific. It’s clear that once again children have been killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks,” Sonia Khush, Save the Children Syria Response Director, said.
“The bombardment is relentless. It seems as though the different sides have stopped fighting each other and are fighting us, civilians, now. It’s just senseless brutality. I saw dozens of people killed in the marketplace, torn to pieces, including many young children who were playing on the street. They should have been safe,” Ahmad, an eyewitness, told Save the Children.
Humanitarian agencies are already struggling to respond to the displacement across northwest Syria. Civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, continue to be damaged or destroyed.
In the last two weeks, at least four medical facilities have been impacted by the violence, as well as a water station serving more than 80,000 people, and several schools, settlements for displaced civilians, markets and bakeries, according to the UN. At least eight water facilities that provided drinking water for around 250,000 people in southern Idlib have been attacked in the last two months alone, as summer temperatures soar and civilians are at increased threat of diseases.
“The children of northwest Syria have been caught in violent conflict for 80 days with no lull. They have been denied education, food, healthcare and forced to sleep under the trees in open fields for months now,” Khush added.
Across Syria, 2.1 million children are out of school and 1.3 million are at risk of dropping out. In the northwest, at least 44 schools have been damaged or destroyed recently, as attacks on educational facilities and personnel have increased. Save the Children is calling on all parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and human rights law, and to place the protection of civilians first. Schools, hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure must be protected from attacks.
Another deadly week in Idlib. (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect)
At least 39 civilians were killed at a vegetable market in the city of Maarat al-Numan on Monday, 22 July. The market was allegedly hit by Russian airstrikes, although the Russian government denies this. According to the UN, at least 20 civilians were also killed by airstrikes in other parts of Idlib Governorate, marking one of the deadliest days since government and Russian forces escalated their offensive on the region on 29 April. The UN claims that more than 330,000 people have been displaced since the end of April, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that more than 700 civilians have been killed.
The Idlib offensive has been characterized by the deliberate targeting of civilian-populated areas, including the use of illegal cluster munitions, barrel bombs and incendiary weapons. The armed extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib, also continues to indiscriminately fire rockets towards government-held areas of nearby Aleppo and Hama.
Urging the UN Security Council to take action, on 18 July the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that “Since 1 July at least six health facilities, five schools, three water stations, two bakeries, and one ambulance have been damaged or destroyed… The carnage must stop.. Deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, violate International Humanitarian Law and may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The international community must act now to protect the lives of the millions of civilians living in Idlib governorate. Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, as well as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and all other armed groups, should all commit to an immediate ceasefire and the full implementation of the September 2018 demilitarized zone agreement''.
June 2019
Briefing to the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Idlib by Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
''I briefed this Council one month ago on the worsening humanitarian situation in Idlib. Ten days later, my deputy alerted you to further violence and destruction. Violence, involving Syrian Government forces and their allies, armed opposition forces, and the Security Council-listed terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, continued throughout the holy Eid al-Fitr period.
It has still not stopped despite the announcement of a truce on 12 June.
Over the last six weeks, the conduct of hostilities has resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children. Hundreds more have been injured.
Since 1 May, an estimated 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, moving northwards towards the border with Turkey. That''s almost double the number of newly displaced people since my last briefing to you.
A recent rapid assessment found that many of them have moved multiple times since the start of the conflict, some of them have moved as often as ten times. This is a particular feature of the Idlib area. People fled initially from other parts of Syria, then people moved again and again and again, constantly searching for safety.
Camps for the displaced people are overcrowded, with many people forced to stay in the open. Those who remain in towns and villages close to the fighting live in constant fear of the next attack. Many are crowding into basements, seeking refuge from air strikes, volleys of shells and mortar rounds, from fighting which continue to threaten what is left of their homes.
Hospitals, schools and markets have been hit. Power stations have been affected. Crops have been burned. Children are forced out of school.
We have had reports this morning of another 19 people killed yesterday by airstrikes and artillery shelling. And this past weekend, civilians were killed by mortar and rocket attacks in the Al-Wadehy area to the south of Aleppo city.
In short, we are facing a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes. There is no denying the facts.
The UN and its partners have been responding with emergency food assistance through ready-to-eat rations, reaching more than 190,000 people in May. In addition, the UN and its partners have been reaching nearly 800,000 people with general food assistance.
Water, health and sanitation supplies have been distributed to some 180,000 displaced people, and water trucking has been made available to people in some 342 camps and informal settlements.
None of this, incidentally, would have been possible if this Council had not renewed resolution 2165. Cross-border assistance remains the only means of reaching people in and around Idlib.
The UN and the brave humanitarian workers on the ground are doing all they can. They are risking their lives to help others.
But the response is stretched and a further increase in need brought on by additional fighting would risk seeing it overwhelmed.
To this day, we continue to receive reports of attacks impacting civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals. Since April, according to reports, 37 schools have been affected.
More than 250,000 children are out of school. Some 400,000 students have had their exams cancelled. And 94 schools are currently being used as shelters. As UNICEF said last week, no parent should fear sending their child to a school that may be bombed later that day.
I need to remind you again Mr. President of the incidents affecting health facilities. 26 incidents affecting healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria have been confirmed by the World Health Organization since late April. Eight more than when I last briefed you. Two of those facilities were located in an area controlled by the Government of Syria.
Many other hospitals have closed out of fear of being attacked. These attacks don''t just claim innocent lives. They also deprive thousands of civilians of basic health services, even as fighting intensifies around them.
As you know, some of these hospitals had been deconflicted through the UN''s de-confliction mechanism. All parties have specific obligations to refrain from attacking protected sites under international humanitarian law, regardless of whether they have been de-conflicted or not. It is appalling that these sites were hit in the first place. But hitting a facility whose coordinates were shared as part of the UN''s de-confliction system is simply intolerable.
A number of partners now feel that supplying geographical coordinates to be given to the warring parties effectively paints a target on their backs. Some have drawn the conclusion that hospital bombings are a deliberate tactic aimed at terrorizing people. This whole episode raises deep questions about the de-confliction system. We are discussing this internally, and I will tell you what our conclusions are at the regular monthly humanitarian briefing that we are due to give you next week.
UN Security Council-listed terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has a significant presence in Idlib and is responsible for its own share of the suffering there. Countering HTS is plainly a major challenge.
But counter-terrorism efforts cannot in any way absolve States of their obligations to uphold international humanitarian law. And that is the bottom line, Mr President, just as the Secretary-General said earlier, international humanitarian law must be upheld and attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop and they need to stop immediately''.
June 2019
44 Syrian and International NGOs Call for Immediate End to Attacks on Civilians and Hospitals in Idlib, Syria
Three million civilians in northwest Syria are scared and many are homeless. With no concrete actions taken beyond political statements and promises, Syria and the world may soon be witnessing the “worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century”. Rescue and medical workers on the ground are warning that they have not seen such ferocious attacks in eight years in Idlib. If the conflict continues to escalate, as many as 700,000 people could be displaced from their homes in Syria’s last opposition stronghold.
According to the United Nations, over 200,000 people were forced to flee the continuous bombing and shelling of towns in southern Idlib and northern Hama and have few options to seek safety. Up to 80,000 of those who have fled are sleeping rough with no shelter, and many others are crammed into overcrowded homes.
Since the beginning of the escalation at the end of April, the United Nations confirmed at least 105 have been killed, 3 IDP sites were impacted, and 17 schools have been damaged or destroyed. The United Nations has counted 23 attacks on 20 health facilities, some of them hit twice. 49 have had to suspend their operations due to attacks or insecurity.
Some of the health facilities that were attacked were on the de-conflicted list provided to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Attacks on community hospitals, including specialized maternity centers left thousands without medical care in Aleppo and East Ghouta,” said Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, SAMS President.
“Last year, our medical staff on the ground agreed to share hospital coordinates as part of the UN de-confliction mechanism: The United Nations has a responsibility to protect these hospitals and present a tangible plan to deter such attacks. The people of Syria have the right to know who is attacking and destroying their hospitals.”
Half of the three million people living in Idlib are internally displaced already and have experienced this violence time and again over the course of this conflict. The memory of Aleppo, East Ghouta, and Daraa, is still fresh in their minds, as they fear the latest offensive is only an indicator to the full-scale assault to come.
“Half of Syria’s population has already been displaced by eight years of war, yet the worst may still come,” said Arnaud Quemin, Mercy Corps’ Syria Country Director. “While entire communities were forced to flee and sought shelter in Idlib, three million people there, half of whom are internally displaced already, now fear they will have nowhere to go if war comes again to their doorsteps.”
There is no justification for ongoing attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Parties to the conflict have a legal obligation to protect civilians and spare them from the worst effects of the fighting and to avoid attacking schools, hospitals and homes. Clearly these rules are being violated in northwest Syria today.
In response to the recent alarming chapters of military escalation, we, the undersigned Syrian and international human rights, humanitarian and solidarity organizations, urge all parties to act quickly to ensure the protection of civilians in northwest Syria and compliance with international humanitarian law:
The United Nations Security Council members have a mandate to ensure the protection of civilians and maintain international peace and security. They cannot keep hiding behind divisions in the Council to allow the worst to happen in Idlib, and should exercise all the pressure they can on warring parties to end the hostilities, stop the systematic attacks on civilian infrastructure, and ensure that cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access is facilitated to allow aid agencies to reach all communities in need, in compliance with UNSC resolution 2393.
We also call on UNSC members to work with Turkey and Russia to honor their commitments to the so-called demilitarized zone agreement signed by both parties in September 2018 and implement an immediate ceasefire over the entirety of northwest Syria.
Members of the Security Council should support the Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen to engage parties and broker a peaceful resolution of the security situation in Idlib to avert further bloodshed and urge all parties to return to the table to negotiate a political settlement to the conflict.
May 2019 (OCHA, agencies)
Since 28 April, ongoing conflict in northwest Syria between Government of Syria (GoS) forces and its allies and nonstate armed groups (NSAGs) has continued to escalate. On the morning of 8 May, GoS forces began ground operations against NSAGs, impacting on civilian populations, infrastructure and service provision in northern Hama and southern Idleb governorates. There are reports of people being killed and injured as a result of the recent escalation. While information is difficult to verify, unconfirmed reports indicate that more than 120 civilians, including women and children, have been killed, while many others have been injured.
Between 29 April and 9 May, approximately 180,000 individuals fled the fighting, some 164,000 people fled to northern and eastern Idleb Governorate and around 16,000 people to northern and western Aleppo. Of note, there are reports of many communities that have been abandoned as their populations have fled. However, some people have stayed behind, many of whom are vulnerable. Many are dependent on humanitarian services for their daily needs.
There are an estimated 3 million people in the de-escalation zone in Idleb, of these 1.3 million are internally displaced people (IDPs). In the area impacted to date, there are an estimated 2.1 million people (Humanitarian Needs Overview, August 2018).
Many of the population affected have been displaced in the past, for some this has been multiple displacements. As such, their ability to cope is reduced or compromised. The areas that recently displaced people are moving towards are already densely populated – often to areas with camps at full or excess capacity, putting additional strain on services. Reports indicate that rents have increased fivefold - where housing is available - since 1 May.
Impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure
Since the escalation of conflict on 28 April, many civilian structures have been impacted by airstrikes and/or shelling. On 7 May, two primary health care centres in Kafr Nabutha and Algab, both in Madiq Castle Sub-district in Hama Governorate were damaged. On 8 May, the Kafr Zeita Primary Health Centre in Hama Governorate was also damaged, bringing the total number of health facilities reported to be damaged or destroyed to 15 in this period.
Suspension of humanitarian activities
The impact of the recent increase in conflict on the civilian population, civilian infrastructure and the provision of basic service is deeply worrying. Many humanitarian responders have been forced to suspend their activities in the conflict area. Some organizations suspended activities as their premises were damaged, destroyed or rendered unsafe by the violence.
Others have suspended activities in order to keep their staff and beneficiaries safe, or because the beneficiary population has left. As of 8 May, at least 16 humanitarian partners have suspended their operations in areas impacted by conflict.
Feb. 2019
Syria: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights alarmed by upsurge in attacks and civilian casualties in Idlib.
The intensified ground-based bombardment of Idlib and surrounding areas by government forces and their allies in recent weeks, coupled with a series of attacks by non-State actors, has led to numerous civilian casualties and left some one million people, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people, in an extremely vulnerable situation, the UN Human Rights Chief said on Tuesday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on all parties involved, as well as external governments with influence, to ensure that the protection of civilians is held paramount in the planning and execution of all military operations in accordance with international law.
The bombardment of the "demilitarized buffer zone" that includes Idlib and areas of northern Hama and western Aleppo Governorates started to escalate in December 2018 and has further intensified in recent days. At the same time, there has been an increase of infighting amongst non-State actors and in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in areas they control, including by the extremist group, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).
"Large numbers of civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people, in Idlib and northern Aleppo are living an intolerable existence," said Bachelet. "They are trapped between the escalation of hostilities and bombardment on the one hand, and, on the other, are forced to live under the extremist rule of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and other extremist fighters who regularly carry out targeted killings, abductions and arbitrary detention."
"I urge all the parties involved to, first and foremost, ensure that civilians themselves, and civilian infrastructure, are protected as required by international humanitarian and international human rights law," the High Commissioner said. "The principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution must be fully respected, and military objects must not be placed in the vicinity of civilians."
Nov. 2018 (UN News)
A fragile ceasefire between Government forces and opposition fighters has held in Idlib for 10 weeks, guaranteed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, who re-committed to the deal at talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, this week said Jan Egeland, co-chair of the International Syria Support Group''s Humanitarian Access Task Force and Senior Advisor of the UN Special Envoy for Syria.
Mr. Egeland, who welcomed the original deal, warned at the time that the alternative – clashes between opposition and Government forces – would cause massive bloodshed and destruction similar to that inflicted on other major cities, including Homs, Aleppo, and Raqqa.
In his last press encounter as co-chair of the humanitarian task force before stepping down, Mr. Egeland offered insight into the difficulties of achieving the mechanism’s two main aims since it was established in early 2016: securing aid access and protecting civilians.
Among its challenges were the fact that towns and villages had been besieged, hundreds of thousands of people had died and 12 million had been driven from their homes during the more than seven-year war, he noted.
Turning to the 23 countries that attended task force meetings in Geneva, Mr. Egeland insisted that “too few acted courageously” to hold back the warring parties’ worst excesses against civilians.
“All hell was let loose on them and no one was willing and able to shield and protect them,” he said, adding nonetheless that “what happened here in Geneva helped cause some of the few really achievements, also in the protection of civilians”.
The task force’s successes included securing aid deliveries to the majority of people in besieged areas in 2016, Mr. Egeland said, compared with only two per cent a year earlier, and organizing the first high-altitude air-drops of aid to besieged people in Deir Ez-Zor in eastern Syria.
In a joint statement released from Astana – where regular meetings have been held since January 2017 – Iran, Russia and Turkey reiterated their support for the UN-backed launch of a Constitutional Committee for Syria in Geneva “that would enjoy support of the Syrian parties…at the soonest possible time”.
Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, who has been leading efforts to form a Constitutional Committee, noted on Thursday that the Astana meeting had achieved “no tangible progress” in resolving a 10-month stalemate on its composition, as had been outlined in Sochi in January this year.
* Children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. Of Syria’s 6.2 Million displaced people, 2.6 million are children, roughly 42 percent:

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