Haleem Kawa, a Syrian refugee living in Turkey, has a message for the world: Idlib needs your help.
The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide increased by more than 2 million in 2018 reaching a record 70.8 million, according to the UNHCR. The world took notice of the plight of refugees after Syrians began streaming into Europe in 2015. But while refugees are no longer appearing in the headlines, their plight endures. Are the global powers taking notice? What can they do to lessen the load on developing nations? Guests: Eric Schwartz- President of Refugees International and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Chris Boian- Spokesperson for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency Samuel Witten- Acting Asst. Secretary of State, Population Refugees & Migration (2007-2009) and former State Department deputy Legal Advisor
One of the greatest humanitarian disasters in Syria to date is looming. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers, including Russia and Iran, have steadily regained control of most of the country. The northwest governor of Idlib and its surroundings in northern Hama and Aleppo countryside are the rebels’ last stronghold. Now Damascus and its allies are applying their brutal efforts there. While the immediate threat to civilians there is dire, if Assad isn’t stopped what comes after could be even worse.
Since the Syrian regime and its Russian ally stepped up their bombardment of Idlib province in February, more than 140,000 civilian men, women, and children have been forced to flee for their lives. It is difficult to overstate the urgency of this looming humanitarian disaster if nothing is done to protect these people who often have lost everything.
With support from Russia and Iran, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has regained control over most of the country’s territory. Yet, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. In the first eight months of 2018 alone, nearly 1.4 million people were displaced by violence. Now the warning lights are blinking red in Idlib and other areas outside of regime control. Many of the Syria’s 5.5 million refugees are under mounting pressure to return home before it is safe to do so.
In Syria, the population of Idlib is bracing for what promises to be a brutal offensive by the Assad regime. When Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran discuss Idlib’s fate later this week, they must remember that the lives of millions of civilians hang on their ability to find a peaceful resolution to this situation.
As northeast Syria recovers from occupation by ISIS, there is an important opportunity to strengthen the capacity of local humanitarian groups to help the region recover. These groups work in IDP camps, in host communities, with the displaced, with residents who never left, and with IDP and refugee returnees. They provide a range of services from food distribution to health care to shelter assistance in places where many international aid organizations do not or cannot have a presence. However, these groups are significantly limited in what they can achieve due to scarce funding and lack of capacity.
Syria is in the midst of one of the largest and fastest displacement crises since the start of the country’s bloody civil war eight years ago. As many as 330,000 Syrians have been displaced and are fleeing toward Jordan and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights to escape the Syrian government’s rapid advance. But despite the worsening crisis, international borders remain closed.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear the right of every human being to seek safety in another country. But eight years into the Syrian conflict, this most basic of human rights barely matters because there is so little leeway for people to leave Syrian territory in the first place. If the international community truly wants to help Syrians, it must insist that Syria’s neighbors open their borders, and it needs to offer financial, technical and humanitarian assistance to make that happen.
The Assad regime last weekend launched an offensive into southwest Syria aimed at dividing opposition forces in Daraa province and reasserting government control over the region.
Why it matters: The regime campaign, backed by Russian airpower, has already displaced at least 45,000 civilians — many seeking shelter along Jordan's closed border — and that number could soon reach 200,000. The UN has warned that a full-scale offensive could put as many as 750,000 lives at risk and prove as bloody as the sieges of “eastern Aleppo and eastern Ghouta combined" (which included the use of chemical weapons).
The details: Syria’s southwest is a strategically sensitive area that borders Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. The new regime offensive is taking place in a “de-escalation zone” negotiated last year by the U.S., Jordan and Russia — an agreement that decreased violence and lowered tensions between Israel and Iran over the latter’s presence in the area. This could all now change, and an Iranian role in the regime offensive could drag Israel deeper into the fight.
What’s next: There is a small window to prevent a worst-case scenario. The parties to the de-escalation agreement could try to resuscitate it, but no such effort appears underway. Although Moscow has reportedly reached out to Washington to broker a deal under which opposition fighters would turn over positions to regime forces, it is unclear if Washington could compel that outcome even if it wanted to.
If diplomacy cannot slow the fighting, the humanitarian situation will deteriorate. Most assistance to Syrians in the southwest is delivered via UN cross-border relief operations from Jordan. But if violence escalates, those operations could cease. If Jordan continues to keep its doors closed, displaced Syrians will be left to languish in informal settlements along the border or try their luck in areas controlled by the regime.
Hardin Lang is vice president for programs and policy at Refugees International.
This piece originally appeared here.
As the former capital of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Raqqa serves as an important barometer in measuring the progress of recovery in the wake of the liberation of much of northeast Syria. However, to date, efforts to stabilize the city and address the humanitarian situation have not kept pace with realities on the ground.