IDLIB GOVERNORATE / NORTH AND EAST SYRIA – As temperatures drop across much of Syria, snow blanketing parts of the country, the country’s over 6 million IDPs suffer in camps and temporary shelters, unsure of what the future holds for them.
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), an estimated 5.9 million Syrian’s were displaced as of August 2019, before the Turkish invasion of North Syria that displaced an estimated 300,000 and the Syrian regime offensive in Idlib that has displaced an estimated 700,000. Many of those displaced in both events have already been displaced one or more times.
The displacement in Idlib comes as hostilities between the Syrian regime and Turkey escalate. Since the beginning of the offensive to retake Idlib, Turkish support for the remaining opposition groups has increased, with the Turkish military increasingly getting directly involved.
On Monday, five Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling.
Many of those being displaced in Idlib were previously displaced from Ghouta, Damascus, Daraa, and Homs. Others are being displaced for the first time.
In North Syria, Turkish-backed forces continue to shell the areas around Tel Rifaat, hitting military and civilian targets alike. Upwards of 100,000 people displaced from Turkey’s invasion of Afrin in January 2018 shelter in Tel Rifaat and its countryside. Many more have been displaced to other parts of Syria.
Turkey’s October 2019 invasion of Tel Abyad and Rish Ayno (Ras al-Ain) and the adjoining area displaced 300,000. Though the front line in the region has stabilized, most of the displaced cannot return home due to constant shelling and probing attacks by the Turkish occupation forces.
Those who chose to remain in the occupied cities have been subjected to routine harassment, theft, and other more serious human rights abuses by the occupying factions. Several thousand people, mostly the families of the occupation factions, have settled in the homes of the displaced.
The conditions for IDPs are difficult throughout the country. Access to humanitarian aid is significantly decreased due to the failure of the U.N. Security Council to pass a comprehensive extension of border deliveries. The price of domestic goods has also increased as an economic crisis sees the Syrian Pound trading with the U.S. Dollar at a rate over 1,000:1.
International organizations have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe due to the massive wave of displacement.
The majority of those displaced from Idlib have headed to make-shift settlements near the Turkish border. Many of the displaced could not find tents to shelter in, or even homes for rent, and are forced to remain in olive fields, cars, or abandoned buildings.
The Turkish government, straining to accommodate the displaced Syrian’s already across te border, are reluctant to let more cross the border. In the months prior to the current crisis, Turkish police were routinely arresting Syrians and deporting them back to Syria.
“This is, from our initial analysis, the largest number of people displaced in a single period since the Syrian crisis began almost nine years ago,” stated the regional spokesperson for UNOCHA, noting that 689,000 people have been displaced from the neighboring cities of Idlib and Aleppo since the beginning of December 2019.