On Wednesday the 19th of February, United Nations Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock addressed the UN Security Council, warning them of an “unfolding humanitarian catastrophe” in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. He noted that the crisis had already overwhelmed aid efforts, and is only likely to get worse. In the Idlib region, Russian-backed Syrian forces are currently leading an offensive to take back one of the last rebel strongholds in the nation. Experts have already warned that this renewed violence is likely to lead to a major humanitarian crisis.
UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, expressed his alarm at the rapid development of this crisis. “Hostilities are now approaching densely populated areas such as Idlib city and Bab al-Hawa border crossing, which has among the highest concentration of displaced civilians in northwest Syria and also serves as a humanitarian lifeline,” he said. Pedersen followed this up by saying, “the potential for further mass displacement and even more catastrophic human suffering is apparent, as an increasing number of people are hemmed into an ever-shrinking space.” Since December last year, nearly 900,000 people have fled their homes as a result of a renewed Syrian offensive. According to experts, this is the biggest wave of displacement since the Syrian Civil War broke out nine years ago. Already this year, there have been nearly 300 civilian deaths as a result of attacks throughout the north-western region of the country. Estimates from the United Nations place responsibility for 93% of these casualties on Syrian and Russian forces.
What possible solutions are there for this? Pedersen himself offered one: Russia and Turkey are the two nations currently sponsoring a fragile ceasefire in Idlib, and it is up to them to try to find a way to deescalate the situation. If they cannot achieve this, many more civilians will be placed in danger and the ongoing crisis is likely to worsen. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has already told legislators in his party that a military operation in Idlib is likely to occur in the near future. The potential attack he was referring to would be occurring in response to recent Syrian attacks, which killed 13 military personnel in the past few weeks. It is highly likely that Turkey will not wish to take responsibility for any ongoing humanitarian commitments either, as Al-Jazeera reports that Turkey is already hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
The ongoing conflict in Syria is one of many in the region which is leading to dreadful humanitarian crises. If it cannot be addressed soon, there is the ongoing risk of a major refugee influx to Europe, similar to that which occurred in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. When this first influx occurred a few years ago, there were significant rises in xenophobic legislation and harsh border controls, as well as the rise of far-right political parties utilising the crisis to boost their popularity. This push back is likely to occur again if another refugee crisis takes place. It is critical that the situation in Syria is brought under control, and humanitarian aid is provided to those most affected by the conflict.
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