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Press Release

Defeat of ISIS in eastern Syria doesn’t mean an end to suffering of Syrian people

Massive needs remain across country, including areas retaken by Government of Syria

  • Survivors of ISIS will need long-term psychological support
  • Foreign children need to return home from northeast Syrian camps
  • People of Idlib terrified of increased bombardment across province

The collapse of ISIS’ territorial control in Syria following their defeat to SDF forces is a historic moment but suffering for Syrians continues across the country and will require sustained specialist support for years to come, warns the International Rescue Committee.

In recent weeks in northeast Syria, 62,000 mostly women and children have arrived often in poor health at al Hol camp after fleeing the fighting in Baghuz. The camp is now at breaking point and IRC teams deliver psychological first aid daily to new arrivals, including women in a state of shock, or so dazed they were struggling to properly look after their children. Over 100 children have died on the way to al Hol, or soon after arriving at the camp and IRC teams are working around the clock to identify the most vulnerable cases to prevent further deaths as well as running a 24/7 health clinic.

The rule of the so-called Islamic State has been marked, according to personal testimony of our clients in Iraq and Syria who have lived under their rule, by brutality on an appalling scale. The IRC knows from experience of supporting civilians in Raqqa and Mosul that people living under ISIS rule will have gone through hell and need support for years to come. The IRC has been told that that the number one need for people in areas retaken from ISIS in Deir ez Zor, ahead of even basics like electricity, is psychological support for those who suffered brutal ISIS control. Children will have witnessed extreme violence, including beheadings and violence against women, and are likely to be severely distressed. Children will also urgently require access to education in order to return to a sense of normalcy and have a chance of a future. We share the hope of Syrians and Iraqis that the end of their rule marks a moment of opportunity for their countries.

Whatever the possible crimes of the parents, the more than 3,500 foreign children languishing at camps across northeast Syria are clearly innocent victims of the conflict and should be repatriated to their home countries in order to ensure their safety and well-being. Foreign women at the camp should also return to their countries of origin and face due process as necessary.

In northwest Syria, the people of Idlib are terrified that shelling and airstrikes could commence across the province as September’s uneasy truce appears under threat. According to the UN around 70,000 people have been displaced by increased bombardment in southern Idlib since the beginning of February. Airstrikes on central Idlib last week also caused the temporary closure of one hospital and two health facilities supported by the IRC and our Syrian partners, as well as forcing us to restrict our aid efforts in central Idlib.

Across Syria, nearly 12 million people remain in need of urgent humanitarian aid. Eight years of fighting has eroded livelihoods and 8 in 10 Syrians live in abject poverty. Locations badly damaged by war will need to see massive improvements in jobs, education, and physical infrastructure including demining to make these areas safe to live in once again. Needs remain particularly acute in areas that fell under Government of Syria control over the past year including Dar’a and Eastern Ghouta.

David Miliband, International Rescue Committee’s President and CEO said: “Syria represents the greatest humanitarian and political failure of the 21st century. The direct threat to life and limb in the unfinished battles in Idlib and in the northeast remains a potent concern for over 5 million people. The impunity that has marked the first 8 years of the war threatens them too, and there remains a need for accountability for those who have violated the rules of war and committed possible war crimes during this brutal conflict. As for the nearly 6 million Syrian refugees struggling in neighbouring countries, the prospects for return remain bleak. It will only compound the tragedy if the world loses further focus on this ongoing emergency.

As for the so-called Islamic State, it needs to be understood for what it believes and argues not just the area it governs. It fed on perceptions of unfairness in Sunni communities. Its ideology remains a potent threat to stability unless the wellsprings of its support are addressed.”

In 2018, the IRC provided lifesaving support to close to 1 million people, half of them children, across Syria.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.