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Idlib: Children show signs of severe distress after being forced to flee -- again.

As attacks increase in northwest Syria, an IRC rapid assessment in Harim, Idlib and Jisr-Ash-Shugar found that children show signs of severe distress after being displaced an average of five times since the conflict began.

  • Aid workers in Idlib report that “the current situation is not humanly bearable”;
  • 700,000 people could be forced to flee their homes as conflict escalates in the Northwest of Syria;
  • During mid-May, IRC conducted a rapid assessment of 433 newly displaced households - representing almost 3,500 people - in Harim, Idlib and Jisr-Ash-Shugur to understand the needs of the population;
  • People reported they had been displaced an average of five times since the start of the conflict; 16% reported that they had been displaced 10 or more times;
  • Over half of parents and guardians reported that children were showing signs of psychosocial distress, such as unusual crying and screaming, since this most recent displacement;
  • More than a third of parents and guardians reported children were having nightmares or not able to sleep, and 40% reported children showed signs of sadness.

As attacks escalate and thousands more are forced to flee in Syria’s northwest, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) conducted a rapid assessment of 433 households - representing almost 3,500 people - in Harim, Idlib and Jisr-Ash-Shugur to understand the needs of the newly displaced population.

Misty Buswell, International Rescue Committee’s Middle East Advocacy Director, said: “I spoke to IRC’s partners working in Idlib who told me that the current situation is not humanly bearable. The surge in aerial attacks is the worst violence seen in the area over the past 18 months. Most egregious are the unacceptable 25 attacks on hospitals and health facilities, including two supported by the IRC. Doctors tell us that most affected are women and children who are sheltering at home, and are left with shrapnel and blast injuries when their houses are hit. With numerous health facilities attacked and out of action, many have nowhere to go for treatment, adding to the horror of their situation.

“Already this latest wave of attacks has displaced almost 270,000 people since the start of May. Being displaced means not only leaving your home and often most of your possessions, but for children it also means losing their school, their stability and the places they feel safe.

“IRC teams spoke to families that had been forced to flee. On average they reported being displaced five times since the start of the conflict - with some families reporting that they had fled more than 10 times. A fifth of households reported being separated from a family member since this recent displacement - some because, after being displaced many times, people did not want to leave their homes again.

“Being uprooted is traumatic for anyone but for a child it can have long lasting repercussions. Parents that IRC teams spoke to reported a range of alarming behavior changes since they were most recently displaced, including nightmares, children isolating themselves and behaving more aggressively. These are signs of severe distress that, without support, children may carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

One woman told the IRC during the assessment: "My son is three-and-a-half years old. After the bombardments, he started having nightmares and began wetting his bed. He tells me that he is seeing dead bodies.”

The escalation of conflict could displace over 700,000 people to areas along the Turkish border, an area which is already crammed full of over-crowded makeshift camps. Already people are struggling to access adequate food, water and other basic necessities. Aid organizations, including the IRC, are being stretched to breaking point and will struggle to deal with such large numbers of people.

Misty Buswell adds: “The large numbers arriving in northern Idlib have pushed up rents and the cost of tents. In some areas up to a third of the new arrivals have no choice but to sleep out in the open or in unfinished buildings where they don’t have access to even the most basic services. Life is tough even for those able to afford rented accommodation, with many living cheek by jowl. IRC teams know of 52 people crammed into just two rooms in one building.

“The IRC and its partners are doing all they can to help the most desperately in need in Idlib, but this is also a terrifying time for our staff who worry for the safety of their own families. The international community needs to act now to do everything in its power to pressure all sides to recommit to an immediate ceasefire and protect civilians, and to bring parties to the conflict back to the Geneva peace process.”

The IRC has distributed cash ($120) to over 1,500 newly displaced families in northern Idlib and is providing psychological first aid to some of the most vulnerable arrivals. The IRC supports nine hospitals and health clinics and three mobile health teams in Idlib.

Notes to editors:

Interviewees were asked whether the boys and/or girls, ages 18 or under, in their households displayed these particular behavioral changes following this displacement.

Percentage of households reporting changed behavior:

  • Unusual crying and screaming: boys 60.74% (263); girls: 51.50% (223)
  • Violence against younger children: boys 27.21% (120); girls: 21.94% (95)
  • Less willingness to help caregivers and siblings: boys: 18.71% (81); girls: 17.09% (74)
  • Disrespectful behavior in the family: boys: 18.71% (81); girls: 13.63% (59)
  • Spending significant time away from home/household: boys: 23.56% (102); girls: 10.39% (45)
  • Anti-social (isolating themselves): boys: 18.71% (81); girls: 14.78% (64)
  • Spending more time on sport and playing: boys: 23.56% (102); girls: 16.40% (71)
  • More aggressive behavior: boys: 36.03% (156); girls: 24.02% (104)
  • Committing crimes: boys: 1.85% (8); girls: 1.85% (8)
  • Helping parents and siblings more than before: boys: 17.55% (76); girls: 24.02% (104)
  • Sadness (eg not talking, not playing): boys: 39.26% (170); girls: 40.65% (176)
  • Nightmares/not able to sleep: boys: boys: 38.34% (166); girls: 37.41% (162)
  • Spending more time with friends: boys: 17.55% (76); girls: 15.7% (68)
  • Caring for others in the community: boys: 10.39% (48); girls: 11.32% (49)
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 26 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.