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War in Syria

Syrians in Idlib are once again fearing for their lives

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Fighting in Idlib has uprooted more than 750,000 Syrians since April, including women and children—triggering a major humanitarian crisis. Here’s what you need to know.

Where is Idlib?

Idlib is located in northwestern Syria and is the last major area controlled by the opposition. The province is home to nearly three million civilians, including one million children.

What is happening in Idlib?

There are ongoing efforts by the Syrian government and its allies to take control of the province. Close to 350,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since December—over 80 percent are women and children. There are already 400,000 people displaced from fighting that began in April. If violence continues to escalate, an estimated 800,000 could soon be displaced—creating the largest displacement inside Syria since the conflict started.

“The people of Idlib have lived under the threat of bombing and shelling for nearly nine years, and they are once again fearing for their lives," said Rehana Zawar, IRC country director for northwest Syria. "With many humanitarian services suspended, it means that an already vulnerable population coping with the psychological terror of war is now even more vulnerable. They have little access to the support they desperately need and are living in a constant state of uncertainty," 

Most recently, the escalating violence has opened up a dangerous new front in the conflict. More than 20,000 people in western Aleppo have fled to Idlib where the situation is at a breaking point. 

Children sit by a fire inside a tent in a displacement camp for Syrians in northwestern Idlib.

Photo: AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images

What is the humanitarian situation in Idlib?

The humanitarian situation in northwest Syria is reaching catastrophic levels. At least 15 people were killed on Jan. 15 in attacks on a market. Civilians have been warned to evacuate the area in central Idlib and western Aleppo. 

Many of the newly displaced families have no choice but to camp out in the open where temperatures drop close to zero when night falls. They urgently need food, shelter and fuel to keep warm as well as psychological support to help them cope with what has happened to them.

Displaced Syrian children in Idlib

The health situation in Idlib is already particularly dire with a shortage of medical supplies. Many medical facilities have been attacked in the past. At least 50 health facilities have been attacked in Idlib this year, including two supported by the IRC. These hospitals provided consultations and 700 operations each month. 

Doctors the IRC works with on the ground tell us their hospitals are already full. They see babies with malnutrition on a daily basis, and are treating children suffering from mental health issues as a result of the violence they’ve experienced.

"Desperate to do their jobs, one doctor told us that her biggest fear is not being able to treat people who need her help," Zawar said.

Idlib is home to nearly three million civilians, including one million children.

11 percent of children attending IRC-supported health clinics are suffering from acute malnutrition, according to our partners. Families we have spoken to have told us that they have had to ration food because of the increasing costs. Nursing mothers have at times resorted to feeding their infants herbal tea because they themselves are malnourished and cannot feed their babies.

Around 1.4 million people in Idlib have been displaced by earlier waves of fighting in Syria. Since the end of April, 1,460 civilians, including 417 children, have been killed as a result of the military escalation, according to the United Nations. Shelling and airstrikes have hit schools, markets and displacement camps. 

The people of Idlib have lived under the threat of bombing and shelling for nearly nine years, and they are once again fearing for their lives.

How is the IRC responding?

The IRC urgently calls for an immediate ceasefire; for all parties to the conflict to commit to the United Nations peace process in Geneva to bring an end to the Syrian conflict, and for all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and ensure they are spared from the worst effects of the fighting.

“It is innocent women and children who are bearing the brunt of the conflict, and who will suffer the most if this violence escalates further. And it is time, once and for all, for the parties to the conflict to come back to the negotiating table and find a peaceful resolution. The very lives of 3 million civilians in northwest Syria depend on it,” said IRC Middle East policy director, Misty Buswell.

The IRC and its partners support 12 static health facilities and six mobile health teams in Idlib province. We will provide emergency cash of up to $120 to over 2,100 families in northern Idlib to help them pay for food and other essentials, and provide critical aid to vulnerable women and girls, the elderly, pregnant women and others who need special care. We are also providing urgent cash assistance to families to help them get ready for the cold winter months. 

Displaced family in Idlib, Syria

32-year-old Eyad lives in western Idlib with his wife and young daughter. He fled from Damascus during a six-day battle in 2012. “It was intense. Everyone cried when they walked out of the house. We had to move to [several] towns."

Photo: Abdullah Hammam/IRC

The IRC runs a safe space for children to learn and play as well as receive psychosocial support. With our partners, we distributed 26,362 educational kits with games, books and word cards for children to help them cope with their current situation.

In addition, the IRC has two centers in northern Idlib where we have helped thousands of Syrians build skills for future employment and small businesses through apprenticeships, business start-up grants and life skills and vocational training.

What can I do to help Syrians in Idlib?

Donate Now. Help the IRC provide vital aid to families in Syria, and support our work around the world.

Learn more ways on how to help Syrian refugees in the U.S. and other families uprooted by conflict.

The IRC in Syria

Last year, the International Rescue Committee provided lifesaving support across Syria to over 1.1 million people—almost half of them children—who are struggling to survive a brutal war now in its eighth year. Learn more about our work.