Thursday 17 January 2019

Worst of Syria's humanitarian crisis still to come - UN

Panos Moumtzis, UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria. Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Panos Moumtzis, UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria. Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Jamey Keaten in Geneva

The UN humanitarian agency's top official for Syria expressed concerns yesterday about recent airstrikes in rebel-held Idlib province, warning that "we may have not seen the worst of the crisis" in Syria even after seven years of war.

Panos Moumtzis of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said military escalation could make Idlib's situation "much more complicated and brutal" than other conflict zones in Syria.

Over the past years, tens of thousands of Syrians have been displaced from other parts of Syria into Idlib that borders Turkey. The latest waves of opposition fighters and their families came from eastern suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta, northern parts of Homs province as well as southern neighbourhoods of the capital that were recently taken by government forces and allies.

Mr Moumtzis' comments came three days after an airstrike on the northwestern village of Zardana killed more than 40 people in one of the deadliest attacks in Idlib province this year.

On Sunday, activists said at least 10 people were killed in airstrikes in Taftanaz, also in Idlib, while five others were killed in nearby towns Binnish, Ariha and Ram Hemdan.

Mr Moumtzis said that 920,000 people were displaced within Syria between January and April, the highest number of any four-month span since the war began.

"With this escalation, with this deterioration, we worry about seeing really two-and-a-half million people becoming displaced more and more toward the border of Turkey if this is to continue," Mr Moumtzis said.

"There is no other location to further move them," he said, adding that also in terms of the humanitarian assessment "we see that more than 80pc of the population of Idlib really is in an extremely vulnerable situation".

OCHA is on "high alert" for possible further displacement among the estimated two-and-a-half million people in Idlib, adding: "There is no place left to go" within Syria.

Wouter Schaap, the Syria director of Care, a leading humanitarian organisation, said the figure of 920,000 people displaced "is shocking, and shows that the war in Syria is far from being over. People are still fleeing bombings and shelling in bigger numbers than ever, and seeking protection and assistance far from home".

Mr Schaap said Care have seen it firsthand this year, when tens of thousands of civilians had to leave their homes in eastern Ghouta and northern parts of Homs province "to find refuge in overcrowded shelters". (© Associated Press)

Irish Independent

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