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Press Release

IRC responds to military advance on Khan Sheikhoun, Syria - expressing concern for 3 million civilians in Idlib province

As the Government of Syria and its allies advance on the town of Khan Sheikhoun - already the site of a brutal chemical weapon attack in 2017 - the International Rescue Committee (IRC) emphasises its concern for the three million Syrian civilians living in Idlib province and at risk from the ongoing escalation in conflict.

Rehana Zawar, IRC's Syria Country Director, said: “A humanitarian disaster, which humanitarian agencies have been warning about for months, is unfolding in Idlib province.

The increase in violence is already taking the heaviest toll on civilians, straining infrastructure and essential services in areas that are already hosting large numbers of internally displaced people. Since the upsurge in violence at the end of April alone, more than 500 civilians have been killed and 400,000 have been forced to flee their homes, on top of the one million people who have already had to do so. An IRC assessment found that people had on average already been displaced five if not 10 times by the conflict. IDP families IRC teams spoke to are displaying high levels of emotional distress, with children especially at risk of psychological trauma which can impact them for the rest of their lives. 

The onslaught on civilians and civilian infrastructure continues to run rampant. The UN has said the current escalation shows 'a level of destruction consistent with a bombing campaign aimed at a scorched earth policy.' At least 45 schools have been impacted by the violence and 42 attacks on healthcare have been reported since the upsurge began. An airstrike on an IRC-supported SAMS ambulance in Ma’aret Humeh on August 16th killed at least three people – evidence of the dangers faced by humanitarians and civilians alike. 

Further escalation of hostilities could cause hundreds of thousands of additional people to flee their homes to areas near the Turkish border already overwhelmed by the number of IDPs, where organisations like the IRC are already at breaking point. IRC health clinics are overwhelmed by IDPs fleeing the assault, presenting physical trauma, high levels of communicable diseases and leishmaniasis due to poor hygiene conditions. These civilians and IRC staff alike have the very real fear of being targeted and killed as the military offensive continues in the province, which would also force IRC to staff to evacuate and suspend their life-saving activities.

As the G7 meets this weekend in Biarritz, the group has a duty to urgently redouble its diplomatic response and avoid risking millions of innocent lives. Humanitarian access in both the Northwest and the Northeast of Syria must be maintained for the sake of the millions who rely on aid to survive. The four G7 states on the Security Council must demand accountability for ongoing violations of international humanitarian law in the Northwest- including calling on the UN Secretary-General to urgently appoint the Board of Inquiry to investigate the recent series of attacks quickly and publicly, and to reiterate that civilians must be protected. There must also, critically, be a renewed commitment to the UN-led Geneva political process to end the violence and provide a prospect for peace for those who have been caught in this war for eight years.”

The IRC has been delivering aid in Syria since 2012, and last year IRC and partners delivered services to over a million people in the country. In Northwest Syria, IRC and partners are providing healthcare, cash, and other vital services to thousands of people displaced by the recent escalation in violence.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.