In a distressing turn of events, warplanes have started lining the snaking paths that lead to a maternity hospital in Azaz, a town in northwestern Syria.
Hospital alarms go off at one-hour intervals to alert already overworked staff about the influx of injured civilians and pregnant women. Military conflict has escalated significantly since February 2020 when President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had launched airstrikes to dismantle the last holdout of rebel forces in Idlib, a northwestern province in Syria. The unrestrained air striking has left many terror-stricken expecting mothers in shock as neighborhoods are shelled, and every day four to five babies are found to have died prematurely. (Source: Reuters)
Rampantly marked by genocide and civilian casualty, the Syrian civil war continues steadfastly for nearly a decade and has caused the deaths of nearly five hundred thousand people by February 2020. Some 13 million Syrians were reportedly in acute need of humanitarian assistance by February 2019, as their villages were bombarded and homes pillaged. (Source: BBC) It is well documented that the Syrian government has indiscriminately targeted public places in the past, but attacks on local markets, schools, and hospitals have evidently increased in recent weeks. The airstrikes have damaged nineteen schools and ten hospitals since the beginning of 2020. (Source: Time) The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported the death of 1,964 Syrian civilians since 2019.
Owing to recent airstrikes backed by Russian airpower, the United Nations estimates that ‘violence in Idlib has displaced at least 900,000 people since December 1, 2019.’ Most of these displaced refugees, who are women and children, are forced to move closer to the Turkish border, which has been sealed. They are now trapped in a narrowing strip of land between Syrian forces advancing from the east and south, and the closed Turkish border to the north. “We have our point A but we don’t have a Z,” said Yakzan Shishakly, co-founder of Maram Foundation, a humanitarian organization. Camps such as the Maram foundation provide war relief by constructing makeshift settlements and evacuation camps. However, as the temperature continues to drop below the freezing point, the villages are getting overcrowded with refugees, and hospitals have had children dying of freezing temperatures. (Source: Time, Nasdaq)
Villages that accommodated a hundred people are now packed with a number closer to ten thousand.
“Seven families are living in one house — those who are lucky to live in a house. Many are living in tents, now there aren’t even enough tents. People are living out in the open,” said Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow in the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Without basic amenities such as electricity and heat, people often commit fatal mistakes to keep their families warm: a family was asphyxiated after the father brought a gas heater inside a tent without ventilating the tent properly. (Source: Vox)
Twenty-year-old Shaza Deek said her family arrived in Idlib in the last week of February. They had been forced to flee their village of Kafr Ruma, south of Idlib, late last year by the Syrian government offensive. After changing shelters several times, they had to seek refuge in a mosque and under an open stadium for several weeks in the cold. “They bomb and scatter us, and no one helps us. In this revolution, we lost everything. I wanted to be a doctor, to study. All our dreams are gone.” (Source: Nasdaq)
Syrian refugees’ pleas for international aid have largely failed to materialize because of diplomatic disagreements between the warring parties. Although Turkey and Russia had signed a de-escalation treaty, it had fallen to pieces by the spring of 2019. The United States had intermittently planned a mission to drive out the last remaining members of ISIS in Syria, but this mission was later aborted when president Trump ordered US troops out of Syria in October 2019. By the end of 2019, Assad had reasserted his right to take back ‘every inch of Syria.’ The wealthiest countries- including the EU and the Gulf states- have shown negligible support for the refugees as they have committed to taking only 0.17% of the total refugees. The World Food Program reported that it had to suspend its food aid to 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to lack of funding.
A deplorable lack of international support has had severe consequences on the physical and mental wellbeing of the millions of lives that have been uprooted by the Syrian civil war. The chance of this conflict culminating in peace is extremely slim, and economically able countries must increase efforts to alleviate the refugee crisis in Syria. Resettlement is essential to help the most vulnerable and monetary contribution will not be nearly enough to deal with the Syrian humanitarian crisis. One fact stands out in stark contrast amid the maddening confusion: In this war, the people are the losers.