Hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk in Syria amid ongoing violence in northeast and northwest
Almost daily violence targeting built-up areas and health facilities in Syria continues to threaten civilians there, UN rights experts and humanitarians said on Friday.
“Civilians continue to pay a very high price in the ongoing hostilities in Syria,” said UN human rights office (OHCHR) spokesperson Rupert Colville.
Dozens of people have been killed and injured in the largely separate situations “occurring simultaneously” in north-eastern and north-western Syria, he told journalists at the United Nations, noting that “at least 92” had been killed between 9 October and 5 November.
Their deaths were from a variety of causes including airstrikes and ground based strikes, “and increasingly as a result of what appears to be an indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas, including in local markets”, the OHCHR spokesperson added.
Those comments follow a warning from Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, that hundreds of thousands of people in northeast Syria are vulnerable following an incursion by the Turkish military on 9 October.
“Of the more than 200,000 people who fled the fighting in recent weeks, close to 100,000 people have not yet been able to return home and are dispersed across improvised camps and collective shelters,” she said on Thursday.
These recent displacements have compounded an already dire situation in which 710,000 people were already displaced and approximately 1.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, Ms. Rochdi’s statement explained.
In a related warning, Mr. Colville said that people recently displaced during the military offensive have been “subsequently…subjected to arbitrary detention, in addition to enforced disappearances, after returning to their homes. This is occurring both in areas controlled by Turkish forces and Turkish-affiliated armed groups and in areas controlled by Kurdish armed groups.”
The OHCHR spokesperson added that attacks using improvised explosive devices in the formerly Kurdish-controlled north-east “have noticeably escalated in recent days, mainly in areas under the control of Turkish-affiliated armed groups, which suggests they have most likely been carried out by groups opposing the Turkish military offensive”.
In Syria’s northwest, meanwhile, medical professionals continue to be at grave risk.
Health facilities “continue to be directly hit or significantly damaged whenever there is a military escalation in Idlib”, OHCHR’s Mr. Colville said.
Just this week, “four separate facilities were damaged”, he noted, taking the total number of health facilities that OHCHR has recorded being hit since 29 April to 61.
“We can’t determine if every single attack is deliberate,” Mr. Colville added, “but the large scale of these attacks – as I say, 61 separate facilities, considerably more actual strikes hitting those facilities, given some of them were hit two, three, four times, and the fact that it’s happening every time there’s a military escalation strongly suggests that Government-affiliated forces are conducting these strikes are at least partly if not always deliberately striking health facilities. But I think we’ll have to…and of course, that would amount to a war crime.”
In a new development related to thousands of Syrians held by the Government, Mr. Colville explained that it was concerning that families have been receiving death notifications from the Government authorities. “Basically telling them that their relatives, or family members who were detained or forcibly disappeared have died in custody.”
The development comes as UN Special Envoy for Syria confirmed on Friday that talks between Syrians on a new foundational text for the country will resume in two weeks in Geneva.
Earlier, UN humanitarians warned that a serious funding crisis risks leaving hundreds of thousands of Syrians vulnerable to deteriorating weather conditions.
“Of the $295 million we required in 2019, we have received just $138 million,” said Marixie Mercado, spokesperson, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF): “Despite the massive security, access and capacity challenges, this funding shortfall now represents the most serious obstacle we face in reaching children who need help urgently.”
Listing the many urgent interventions that would no longer be possible without that funding, Ms. Mercado explained that it would mean “not providing emergency water, sanitation and hygiene support to over 100,000 people, nor improving poor water supplies to 300,000 more. Not providing 55,000 children with routine immunization, and nearly 140,000 women and children with health and nutrition consultations.”