“We came with nothing but the clothes that we are wearing. We had to leave in a rush to survive”
Amman, Jordan– CARE International is extremely alarmed by the recent escalation of violence in northwestern Syria, including in areas in and around the demilitarized zone.
With more than 150,000 people displaced within a week, civilians in Idlib fear for their lives, as they have no place left to seek refuge outside the demilitarized zone. Heavy bombardment has reached villages which lie within the buffer zone, agreed by Russia and Turkey on the border between northern Hama and southern Idlib in September 2018.
“The area has seen a dramatic increase in violence, including airstrikes, barrel bombs and artillery attacks. This has caused significant displacement. The situation on the ground is chaotic, with families fleeing from the targeted area on crowded roads,” said Aleksandar Milutinovic, CARE’s Syria director.
Salim, a Syrian man who is now displaced in Northern Idlib, told CARE’s partners: “All of a sudden we heard heavy shelling. We didn’t know what was happening and why. We left immediately to save our lives and our children. Thousands of people were forced to leave their houses and we have nowhere to stay. I had to leave the area with my family, but where can we find shelter? Our life is miserable. I prefer dying than living like this. We came with nothing but the clothes that we are wearing. We had to leave in a rush to survive.”
Rana, the director of a CARE-supported center, which is run by Women Now, a Syrian partner organization in Idlib, says, “The bombardment is still heavy in the surroundings of Idlib city which caused a huge wave of displacement from the suburbs. The situation is miserable because most of the displaced people don’t have a place to go. The lucky ones can stay in their cars that have their belongings and some food. But others are staying in the open, in parks or open fields. There’s no cover for them but the sky.”
According to the UN, more than 300 civilians had died due to hostilities in the northwest in the last three months and 60 of them in April alone. Scores more have been injured. Following increased attacks in the area, over 150,000 people have fled to areas closer to the Turkey border, while 300,000 people live in the buffer zone where there are hostilities. Many families remain on the run and in the open. The newly displaced families are moving north, with nothing but their clothes, towards areas already hosting high numbers of displaced.
Health facilities impacted
A number of health facilities have been impacted by the attacks – either directly or indirectly – including two of the health facilities CARE supports in southern Idlib.
The first incident took place last Friday, when a barrel bomb landed very close to the health center causing damages in the building as the door was ripped off and the fence collapsed. The second incident took place on Wednesday. Both health facilities were evacuated and all staff are safe and unharmed. The facilities were not directly targeted but they now remain closed until further notice.
CARE has been funding these centres since 2014. During April alone, CARE and its partner supported 3,500 patients, providing reproductive health care, pregnant women care, including ante natal care and postnatal care as well as gender based violence case management.
“Sometimes when the bombardment is heavy, we keep the centre closed. We take the day off. But once the situation is better, we all go back as if nothing has happened. Life continues for all of us and we’re not going to give up on our hopes and dreams. We will continue as long as we’re alive,” Rana adds.
“Idlib is home to four million people, many of whom have been displaced multiple times and have been living in camps for years. Should there be a major military escalation in the country’s North West, it will be the most vulnerable who will pay the heaviest price as they have nowhere left to go,” said Milutinovic. “We have been working closely with our partners over the past 48 hours to understand the increasing needs and mobilize resources”.
CARE has been working closely with its local partners to monitor the situation and we have reached more than 18,000 in our current response until today; with distribution of essential household items, including water buckets, and tents for shelter and hygiene kits for women and adolescent girls as well as new arrival kits with essentials for those who have moved with nothing but what they could carry.
CARE and its local partners also provide cash assistance to the displaced families to help them cover their basic needs and ready-to-eat meals. We are also providing psychological first aid and protection referrals through our mobile clinics. As the situation escalates further and the number of those displaced has increased sharply, CARE and its local partners will continue to monitor the situation and mobilize further resources to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
Since the start of the Syria crisis until the end of January 2019, CARE and its partners have reached more than 4.7 million people. We are responding to the crisis in Syria through a network of local partners, distributing food and non-food items, clean water, clothes, blankets, cash, rehabilitating collective shelters, and extending psycho-social support. We also work with people to restore livelihoods, particularly agriculturally based ones, protect maternal health, and repair small infrastructure.
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