People's Stories Peace

Newly displaced in Syria in urgent need of protection, shelter
by OCHA, UNHCR, IRC, agencies
Mar. 2020
A ceasefire in northern Syria agreed between Russia and Turkey came into force on the 6th of March, aiming to halt intense fighting that has sparked a humanitarian disaster.
A monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a relative calm descended on the region. It comes after weeks of intense fighting between Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian forces supported by Russia and Iran.
The agreement lacked any mention of a safe zone where displaced Syrians could take shelter. The UN estimates that a million people have been uprooted by the recent offensive - the largest exodus of the entire nine-year war.
There have been several ceasefires over Idlib in the past. In September 2018, Russia and Turkey agreed to establish a "de-escalation zone", but that ceasefire collapsed.
Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council said: ''The long overdue truce in Idlib will give some respite for exhausted civilians. It will only become a real ceasefire if Russia + Turkey actively monitor & force their allies to refrain from further provocations. Iran, Gulf states & others must also behave. The Idlib truce can become a long term ceasefire if there is separation of forces, grounding of air power and joint monitoring by Turkey/Russia. But “de-escalation” will again fail if there is no UN lead talks to end war through political deals among Syrians and laying down of arms.''
28 Feb. 2020
Rapidly escalating conflict in northwest Syria has created healthcare “mayhem”, amid reports of displaced people moving closer to the Turkish border in search of shelter, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, as the UN Secretary-General appealed for all warring parties to "step back from the edge of further escalation."
The UN chief António Guterres, described the current displacement crisis in and around Idlib, and the escalation in fighting between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian forces, as “one of the most alarming moments” of the nearly-decade long war.
“Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour. And as always, civilians are paying the gravest price”, he told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.
“Even camps and other sites where displaced families have sought shelter have been struck by shelling.” He said that the most pressing need was an immediate ceasefire “before the situation gets entirely out of control.”
Speaking just hours before the UN Security Council is due to meet in emergency session to discuss the escalation in fighting in Syria, the UN chief said that “now it’s time to give a chance for diplomacy to work, and it’s essential that fighting stops.”
Briefing the press in Geneva earlier in the day, WHO Spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said that health workers were describing "mayhem in their health facilities." He explained that nearly 170,000 “newly displaced people are sleeping out in the open” in Idlib - the last opposition-held area of Syria that is the target of a Government-led military campaign – with 100,000 children exposed to temperatures close to freezing.
The crisis is the worst that people in northwest Syria have experienced since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, UN humanitarians maintain.
Since 1 December, it is estimated that that nearly a million people have been displaced in the embattled region. Conditions are “horrifying”, said Jens Laerke, Spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“We now have 950,000 displacements going in absolutely horrifying conditions. People have nothing and they have no place to go”, he told journalists. “This is an increase upon an increase upon an increase, and it is really tragic to see what is going on.”
Since 1 December, 11 healthcare facilities have been attacked, according to WHO. The UN agency also warned that the displacement crisis has created huge healthcare needs in some medical centres and hospitals but left other facilities deserted, amid a “sharp rise in trauma cases”.
“As of today, 84 health facilities have been forced to suspend operations since 1 December last year, out of those 84, 31 have been able to relocate and provide services where people have sought refuge from bombardments”, Mr. Lindmeier said.
The UN’s head of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said: “We strongly urge Russia and Turkey to build upon their previous agreements to secure a ceasefire for northwest Syria”, noting the devastating impact on civilians of the escalation.
Attacks had come from air and ground “seemingly without regard for civilians”, displacing nearly a million, including more than 560,000 children: “They are fleeing north…into ever-shrinking areas where they still hope to find relative safety.”
“Civilians are killed in IDP camps, schools and hospitals. This is happening in plain sight, night and day, day in and day out. Hospitals destroyed. Schools destroyed. People''s lives destroyed.”
“And it is all happening under our watch”, she declared referring to the UN Security Council. With an “ever-growing record of destruction and atrocity” in Syria, she noted the countless warnings from the UN that attacks on civilians are simply unacceptable.
“We have reaffirmed to the parties that all military operations must respect the rules of international humanitarian law. If such horrific acts and tactics persist despite global outrage, is it largely because their authors do not fear accountability and justice?”
She concluded by noting that the civilians living in daily terror from the guns, shells and mortar rounds across Syria, were “not asking for a pause in the fighting. They are asking for an end to the killing. We must all assume our responsibility to do all we can to stop this violence.”
Kevin Kennedy, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis:
''Today, we conducted an inter-agency UN mission in northwest Syria where the needs for humanitarian aid and protection are growing more desperate by the day. We witnessed first-hand the dire humanitarian consequences of the ongoing violence in Idlib. People are traumatized and frightened and urgently need better access to shelter, food, sanitation, basic health services and protection.
Local aid workers are doing a heroic job, but they are exhausted and are themselves being displaced and killed. All parties to the conflict must adhere to their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in accordance with international humanitarian law.. People in northwest Syria first and foremost need the violence to stop''.
17 Feb. 2020
The crisis in northwest Syria has reached a horrifying new level, warns Mark Lowcock - UN Emergency Relief Coordinator
We now believe 900,000 people have been displaced since 1 December, the vast majority women and children.
They are traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full. Mothers burn plastic to keep children warm. Babies and small children are dying because of the cold.
The violence in northwest Syria is indiscriminate. Health facilities, schools, residential areas, mosques and markets have been hit. Schools are suspended, many health facilities have closed. There is a serious risk of disease outbreaks. Basic infrastructure is falling apart.
We are now receiving reports that settlements for displaced people are being hit, resulting in deaths, injuries and further displacement.
A huge relief operation, across the border from Turkey is underway, but it is overwhelmed. The equipment and facilities being used by aid workers are being damaged. Humanitarian workers themselves are being displaced and killed.
The biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century will only be avoided if Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first. The only option is a ceasefire.
11. Feb. 2020
UNHCR is deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of civilians in north-west Syria. The humanitarian crisis is becoming increasingly desperate, with massive numbers of people on the move. UNHCR, as part of the UN humanitarian response, is stepping-up to reach those in need.
Around 800,000 people have fled within or from the conflict areas in Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo Governorates since early December. A critical need is shelter, compounded by the harsh winter conditions. Many have had to flee already several times, leaving behind possessions, and with limited places for them to stay.
Existing camps and settlements of internally displaced persons are overcrowded, and shelter in existing houses is getting scarce. Many schools and mosques are filled with displaced families, and even finding a place in an unfinished building has become close to impossible.
UNHCR seeks to support people in need where-ever they are, and through all available channels. UNHCR is contributing urgently needed tents as well as other essential core relief items, including blankets together with humanitarian partners. However, this will only meet a small part of the total needs, as recent displacement has outstripped capacity. More resources and funding are urgently required.
Emergency Protection services, targeting the most vulnerable displaced persons need to be scaled up, including to many children.
The conflict in Syria has caused the biggest displacement crisis in the world. Over 5.5 million Syrians live as refugees in the region. More than six million Syrians are displaced within the country.

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Northeast Nigeria: ''The conflict is intensifying and the needs are massive''
by Médecins Sans Frontières, agencies
Feb. 2020
Luis Eguiluz, has been the MSF Head of Mission in Nigeria since September 2017. He talks about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the northeast of the country.
Do you think the situation for people in Borno has improved since your arrival in 2017?
After more than 10 years of conflict between non-state armed groups and the Nigerian military, the situation is only getting worse. The conflict is intensifying, and the needs are massive. The United Nations estimates that there are more than two million people who have been displaced from their homes due to violence, and more than seven million who depend entirely on humanitarian aid to survive.
The most serious problem is that there are more than a million people living in areas controlled by non-state armed groups – humanitarian organisations do not have access to these areas, and the people living there do not receive any kind of aid at all.
The conflict may be nothing new, but this crisis is extreme, and it is happening right now; in our projects we witness the impact that it has on human beings.
What are the main problems in providing humanitarian assistance in Nigeria?
The security situation has clearly deteriorated in recent months, and it is a challenge for humanitarian organisations to provide adequate assistance to people.
On one hand, organisations face the risk of violence – unfortunately, the killings and abductions of humanitarian staff have increased in recent months – and because of this, the presence of aid is very limited outside the state capital, Maiduguri.
On the other hand, counter-terrorism laws in Nigeria impose real limitations on humanitarian action and principles.
What are the main needs of people?
In ‘garrison towns’ – towns controlled by the Nigerian military – there are still critical needs that are not covered, especially when it comes to healthcare, clean water, shelter and protection. In many cases, people are totally dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.
In the case of Pulka, the population has tripled since the beginning of the conflict and there isn’t enough farmland to cultivate food. In addition, people cannot go beyond the town’s military perimeter. If they do, they run the risk of being attacked by non-state armed groups or being considered part of the armed groups by the Nigerian military.
And outside the garrison towns, the needs are expected to be even higher since there are more than one million people that have not received humanitarian assistance since the beginning of the conflict.
In locations such as Pulka or Gwoza, MSF projects have a protection component. What exactly does this consist of?
In our projects we run outreach programmes, which identify people who are more vulnerable and at risk of violence, exploitation or the loss of basic rights or services. Our first priority is to ensure medical care.
Then, based on their needs we identify organisations that ensure access to appropriate assistance and services, such as child protection. This is especially important in the case of unaccompanied minors who reach these garrison towns. Often these children have experienced several episodes of violence and may easily become victims of further abuse.
Have you seen an increase in cases of sexual violence?
We are seeing more cases because we have been able to finally reach people – often, survivors of sexual violence do not seek attention due to stigma and fear, so in our outreach and protection activities we have worked to build a relationship with the community based on trust.
We know that in situations of conflict, women and children are usually the most exposed to violence, and we are increasingly seeing victims of sexual violence perpetrated by all parties to the conflict.
In this context there are no protection mechanisms that would serve to prevent these abuses in normal situations, or at least to mitigate their consequences.
Does the lack of economic resources increase the vulnerability of these people?
Of course; displaced people who do not have enough food or fuel or water are far more vulnerable to exploitation or abuse. As I said before, going outside the security perimeter to obtain food or essential items like firewood entails significant risks – those who do go beyond the perimeter are often attacked by armed groups.
Despite such risks, and the fact that this situation remains an emergency, some actors have started implementing development programmes instead of providing humanitarian aid.
This pushes people to expose themselves to additional risks in a context where security is not guaranteed. For example, some food distributions have reduced, due to a change in parameters to reflect development needs; this makes people far more likely to try and source their own food, often beyond the security perimeter.
Are displaced people still arriving to the garrison towns?
Although they continue to arrive to garrison towns such as Pulka and Gwoza, there are now fewer displaced people arriving from areas controlled by non-state armed groups. Now we see more people who move for a second or third time from another military-controlled area and end up here.
We are concerned that government-endorsed policies are encouraging people to return to, or settle in, locations where there are not enough basic services and where insecurity is growing.
After two and a half years as Head of Mission in Nigeria, what is your impression of the humanitarian crisis in Borno?
Right now, the situation shows no signs of improving. The most urgent, abundant and clear needs are simply not being met in Borno. We know that the conflict is only intensifying and that our work – to provide emergency medical humanitarian assistance – must continue.
But the severity of this crisis simply is not being addressed properly by the Government of Nigeria and international organisations. We must continue working and pressing for humanitarian action.
At this stage, the most basic needs must be the priority, saving lives must be the priority, and we must not underestimate the urgency of this crisis that remains one of the most acute in recent years.
Sep. 2019
Nigeria is a pressure cooker of internal conflicts and generalized violence that must be addressed urgently, an independent United Nations expert said, following a fact-finding visit to the country.
“The overall situation that I encountered in Nigeria gives rise to extreme concern”, with issues like poverty and climate change adding to the crisis, said Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard.
She pointed out that if ignored, the ripple effects of unaccountability on such a large scale, had the potential to destabilize the sub-region if not the whole continent.
“Nigeria is confronting nationwide, regional and global pressures, such as population explosion, an increased number of people living in absolute poverty, climate change and desertification, and increasing proliferation of weapons”, she said. “These are re-enforcing localized systems and country-wide patterns of violence, many of which are seemingly spinning out of control”.
Ms. Callamard highlighted many areas of concern, including armed conflict against the Boko Haram terrorist group in the northeast; insecurity and violence in the northwest; the conflict in the central area known as the Middle Belt and parts of the northwest and south, between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and indigenous farming communities.
She also noted the prevalence of organized gangs or cults in Nigeria’s south; general repression of minority and indigenous groups; killings during evictions in slum areas; and widespread police brutality.
The UN expert said there were some positive signs, including progress against the extremist Boko Haram group and affiliates, as well as a decline in allegations of arbitrary killings and deaths in custody at the hands of the military over the last two years.
However, she noted little progress in terms of accountability and reparations for grave human rights violations in the past.
“I particularly urge the Nigerian Government, and the international community, to prioritize as a matter of urgency, accountability and access to justice for all victims and addressing the conflicts between nomadic cattle breeding and farming communities, fueled by toxic narratives and the large availability of weapons”, she underscored.
While some high-profile cases of killings by police have resulted in the arrest and prosecution of the officers responsible and others involving clashes between Fulani herdsmen and indigenous farming communities have been investigated in Benue State, she flagged that “such examples of accountability remain the exception”.
“In almost all of the cases that were brought to my attention during the visit none of the perpetrators had been brought to justice”, lamented the Special Rapporteur.
“The loss of trust and confidence in public institutions prompts Nigerians to take matters of protection into their own hands, which is leading to a proliferation of self-protecting armed militia and cases of ‘jungle justice’”, she said.
June 2019
North-east Nigeria: Crisis shows no sign of abating. (OCHA)
Now in its tenth year, the conflict continues to uproot the lives of tens of thousands of civilians. In recent months, a new spike in violence and military counter-operations have affected civilians in the BAY states, particularly in Borno State. Since January, some 134,000 people have been forced from their homes.
“Aid agencies have significantly scaled up and reached some two million people with aid this year,” explained the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon.
“However, much more support is urgently needed. We are worried about the tens of thousands of people who have recently fled rising violence and are still sleeping outside in the open. With the rainy season progressing, they will face increased risk of diseases and need immediate protection.”
The numbers of this crisis are worrying: In Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, 7.1 million people - 53 per cent of the population - require urgent humanitarian assistance. 2.9 million food insecure people at emergency level. 368,000 children are severely malnurished.
“The crisis in the Lake Chad Region is far from over", said Mr. Vincent Houver from the International Organization of Migration, one of the mission members.
“The humanitarian community cannot spare any effort at this time. This week we have met with women, children, and men who have been forced to flee multiple times and urgently need protection and assistance to survive and rebuild their lives. We cannot let them down.”
During a recent visit, emergency directors from UN aid agencies and NGOs, representing the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC), witnessed first-hand the extent of the needs in Nigeria’s north-east, as violence continues unabated and the 2019 humanitarian response plan remains over 67 per cent unfunded.
“Some of the people we met have been living in camps for internally displaced persons for several years.” explained Mr. Christian Gad, Head of Emergencies for the Danish Refugee Council.
“All actors, including the Government and the private sector in Nigeria, need to join forces to help those affected by the crisis recover, in dignity, and restart their lives.”

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