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War in Syria

Syrians in Idlib are once again fearing for their lives

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Fighting in Idlib has uprooted nearly 750,000 Syrians since April, including women and children—triggering a major humanitarian crisis. Here’s what you need to know.

Where is Idlib?

Idlib is located in northwestern Syria and is the last major area controlled by the opposition. The province is home to nearly three million civilians, including one million children.

What is happening in Idlib?

There are ongoing efforts by the Syrian government and its allies to take control of the province. Close to 350,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since December. There are already 400,000 people displaced from fighting that began in April. The majority of those who were recently displaced are sheltering in public buildings such as schools and mosques. If violence continues to escalate, over a million could soon be displaced—creating the largest displacement inside Syria since the conflict started.

“The people of Idlib have lived under the threat of bombing and shelling for nearly nine years, and they are once again fearing for their lives. With many humanitarian services suspended, it means that an already vulnerable population coping with the psychological terror of war is now even more vulnerable. They have little access to the support they desperately need and are living in a constant state of uncertainty," said Rehana Zawar, IRC country director for northwest Syria.

Children sit by a fire inside a tent in a displacement camp for Syrians in northwestern Idlib.

Photo: AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images

What is the humanitarian situation in Idlib?

Around 1.4 million people in Idlib have been displaced by earlier waves of fighting in Syria, with more than 664,000 people living in poor conditions in tented settlements that often lack clean water or toilets. 

“Everything is expensive, bread, electricity, rent, everything. if you don’t have money to buy you will die of hunger,” said Um Ragheb, 35, who is struggling to raise her five children by herself in the village of Deir Hassan. She fled from her home in the city of Homs four years ago and is unable to work because of a hand injury. "We left [all] of our things at Homs, [but] a few clothes for the kids,” she adds.

The health situation in Idlib is already particularly dire with a shortage of medical supplies. Many medical facilities have been attacked in the past. At least 50 health facilities have been attacked in Idlib this year, including two supported by the IRC. These hospitals provided consultations and 700 operations each month. 

Doctors the IRC works with on the ground tell us their hospitals are already full. They see babies with malnutrition on a daily basis, and are treating children suffering from mental health issues as a result of the violence they’ve experienced. 

"Desperate to do their jobs, one doctor told us that her biggest fear is not being able to treat people who need her help," Zawar said.

11 percent of children attending IRC-supported health clinics are suffering from acute malnutrition, according to our partners. Families we have spoken to have told us that they have had to ration food because of the increasing costs. Nursing mothers have at times resorted to feeding their infants herbal tea because they themselves are malnourished and cannot feed their babies.

Idlib saw a dramatic increase in air attacks in September against armed groups not covered by any ceasefire agreement.

Idlib saw a dramatic increase in air attacks in September against armed groups not covered by any ceasefire agreement.

"We are hearing reports that thousands of people – including children – were already living in the open air under olive trees, and our partner organisations report that 11 per cent of children attending the health clinics we support are suffering from acute malnutrition," said Zawar. “Families we have spoken to in a number of districts have told us that they have had to ration food because of the increasing costs and, more worrying still, even nursing mothers have at times resorted to feeding their infants herbal tea because they themselves are malnourished and cannot feed their babies."

Ongoing insecurity limits people’s access to health services and other essential aid. According to the United Nations, some 600,000 people in the affected areas have had their access to health, nutrition and protection services affected, and shelling and airstrikes have hit schools, markets and displacement camps. With the onset of a harsh winter, the situation will become even more difficult for them. 

Many of the newly displaced families have no choice but to camp out in the open where temperatures drop close to zero when night falls. They urgently need food, shelter and fuel to keep warm as well as psychological support to help them cope with what has happened to them.

 

The people of Idlib have lived under the threat of bombing and shelling for nearly nine years, and they are once again fearing for their lives.

How is the IRC responding?

The IRC urgently calls for an immediate ceasefire; for all parties to the conflict to commit to the United Nations peace process in Geneva to bring an end to the Syrian conflict, and for all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and ensure they are spared from the worst effects of the fighting.

The IRC and its partners support 12 static health facilities and six mobile health teams in Idlib province. We will provide emergency cash of up to $120 to over 2,100 families in northern Idlib to help them pay for food and other essentials, and provide critical aid to vulnerable women and girls, the elderly, pregnant women and others who need special care. We are also providing urgent cash assistance to families to help them get ready for the cold winter months. 

32-year-old Eyad lives in western Idlib with his wife and young daughter. He fled from Damascus during a six-day battle in 2012. “It was intense. Everyone cried when they walked out of the house. We had to move to [several] towns."

Photo: Abdullah Hammam/IRC

The IRC runs a safe space for children to learn and play as well as receive psychosocial support. With our partners, we distributed 26,362 educational kits with games, books and word cards for children to help them cope with their current situation.

In addition, the IRC has two centres in northern Idlib where we have helped thousands of Syrians build skills for future employment and small businesses through apprenticeships, business start-up grants and life skills and vocational training.

What can I do to help Syrians in Idlib?

Donate now. Help the IRC provide vital aid to families in Syria, and support our work around the world.

Learn about ways to help Syrian refugees and other families uprooted by conflict.

The IRC in Syria

Last year, the International Rescue Committee provided lifesaving support  across Syria to 1.1 million people—almost half of them children—who are struggling to survive a brutal war now in its eighth year. Learn more about our work.