DISPATCHES FROM THE GLOBAL CRISIS IN REFUGEE PROTECTION Humanitarian Crisis of “Staggering” Dimensions Heightens in Idlib
March 9, 2020
Omar al-Muqdad – a prominent journalist, documentary filmmaker, and former Syrian refugee – writes a regular blog for CMS titled, “Dispatches from the Global Crisis in Refugee Protection.” This series covers the Syrian Civil War, the experiences of Syria’s immense and far-flung refugee population, the global crisis in refugee protection, religious persecution, and US refugee and immigration policies. Mr. al-Muqdad’s work has been featured by the BBC, CNN, and in many other media outlets. Resettled in the United States in 2012, Mr. al-Muqdad became a US citizen in Spring 2018. CMS features this series in its weekly Migration Update and on its website.
“The world continues to ignore our tragedy to such an inhuman level, I sometimes regret bringing children into the crazy world,” laments Muhammed Al-Ahmad, a 37-year-old father of two from Aleppo Syria. Muhammed is one of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians fleeing from constant bombings by the Syrian regime and Russian jet bombers. Muhammed and his family have now reached their third town since fleeing the Aleppo countryside. His dreams and hopes for a normal happy and healthy life for his daughters have all but vaporized as they suffer the torment of freezing winter temperatures and the degradation of lacking the essentials for living. One of his daughters is disabled, which makes the struggle even more tortuous.
The United Nations has reported that relief efforts in northeastern Syria are exhausted due to the high number of displaced people, as government forces continue their attacks in Idlib Governorate. UNICEF Director Henrietta Fore reports that since December “over 900,000 people — including over half a million children” have been forced “away from their homes and into danger.” In September 2018, Russia and Turkey agreed to establish Idlib as a de-escalation zone, but in the interim more than 1,300 civilians have been killed. And on February 17, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad pledged to continue the battle “to liberate” Idlib.
Prior to the Syrian conflict, Idlib had 1.5 million residents, a number that has doubled since the Syrian government regained control of areas previously held by opposition fighters. The Idlib governorate is the last major opposition-held stronghold in Syria, but government forces, backed by Russia and pro-Iranian militias, have increased the level of pressure on the area and created a “staggering mass movement of people” in a short period.
In July 2018, Turkey stopped registering newly arriving Syrian refugees, and has since coerced many Syrians to return home. On February 28, 2020, it announced that it would open its border with Idlib and provide Syrian refugees free passage to the EU, a move seen as a tactic to EU countries to support its military campaign in Syria.
In late January, Mark Lowcock, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, reported that: “Families recently displaced and currently sheltering on roadsides or under thin sheets of plastic or in makeshift shelters and in unfinished buildings have been making desperate appeals for more support …. People feel increasingly under siege as the bombardment follows them from place to place. They are traumatized and feel totally abandoned by the world.” Infants and children are “dying because of the cold … with people forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures.”
Air and ground strikes have targeted schools, hospitals, marketplaces, and residential areas. Earlier this month, Hanny Megally of the UN-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry stated: “There is a war crime of intentionally terrorising a population to force it to move and I think we’re seeing that picture emerging very clearly for example in Idlib.” Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings called on Presidents Putin and Assad to “stop this assault immediately and comply with international humanitarian law requiring them to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.” No target is off-limits in this horrendous display of violence and destruction.
This is consistent with Assad’s strategy since the beginning of the war – to push all those who do not support the regime to leave. An estimated one-half of Syria’s 23 million people have fled their homes and are now displaced, many suffering the greatest tragedies imaginable with no end in sight. Meanwhile, Muhammed Al-Ahmad spends his days trying to survive and planning his family’s next move in search of safety and peace.