Women and Children Face Chronic Violence and Neglect in Syria’s Widow Camps

Women and children living in refugee camps in northwest Syria are facing chronic levels of violence, neglect, and abuse, leading to calls for adequate humanitarian assistance and protection.

This comes after a recently released report by World Vision has revealed that tens of thousands of women in 28 ‘widow camps’, those home to widows, single women, and children, face high levels of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Children in these camps have also been found to suffer neglect and abuse. Girls are at risk of child marriage, while boys are either forced into work or vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups as they are forced to leave the camps after they turn eleven years of age.

The lead author of the report, Alexandra Matei, has said that “We are seeing the world, rightly, express solidarity with the victims of the conflict in Ukraine and governments generously committed to doing whatever it takes to meet the humanitarian needs there. But Syrian widows and their children deserve the same level of empathy, compassion, and commitment. Their pain, their desperation, their need is no less than anyone else who is fleeing conflict.”

This reveals the dire situation these women and children face in isolated parts of Syria. Access to humanitarian aid is difficult across the region due to only one route being open for United Nations to help. This has meant that these vulnerable people are isolated and are not getting the help they desperately need.

The Syrian Civil War is now into its eleventh year and has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. More than 13 million Syrians have been affected by the conflict, with approximately 6 million people, including 2.5 million children, internally displaced. While the conflict has largely wound down, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate due to instability, poor economic conditions, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conflict began after President Bashar al-Assad reacted with abhorrent violence to protests that were part of the wider Arab Spring movement. The Free Syrian Army has since lost substantial ground to the Syrian government and Russian forces and has been largely isolated in the Idlib province on the Turkish border. Because Syrian government forces are closing in, those left in the province are facing acute food insecurity and danger from aerial bombardment.

As always, it is those most vulnerable that are at the greatest risk of these conditions. These camps in the Idlib and Aleppo provinces, run by the Syrian Free Army and the Turkish military, offer worse conditions than elsewhere and present a fundamental safety risk to women and children with nowhere else to go.

It is vital that the United Nations ensure that humanitarian aid can safely reach these camps to provide immediate assistance to those in need and to allow aid workers to protect vulnerable women and children from any abuse and provide access to basic services. Funding should also increase to allow a consistent flow of assistance to these people until they can be safely relocated back to their homes.

With the Syrian Civil War already having a significant human cost that has caused untold misery, the international community needs to protect those who remain in dire circumstances and ensure that they can remain safe and well.