March 5, 2020 — Children in Idlib are showing multiple and severe signs of emotional distress as a direct result of the recent hostilities in northwest Syria, and the IRC is calling for an immediate ceasefire as an urgent step to end the violence and address children's needs.
A recent survey of 248 parents and caregivers who had fled their homes in northwest Syria shows that the conflict is taking the highest toll on the youngest and most vulnerable.
- 62% of caregivers said that their children now often cry for unknown reasons or specifically in anticipation of conflict activity – such as when planes fly overhead
- 47% said that their children now have nightmares or are unable to sleep
- 46% said that their children now appear to be unusually sad – for example, no longer engaging in conversation or showing no interest in playing
- 31% said their children had become more aggressive towards other children
- 21% said their children had started to isolate themselves
“The horrific and unrelenting violence in Idlib is taking its toll on everyone – but especially on children,” said Rehana Zawar, the International Rescue Committee’s Country Director for northwest Syria. “Nightmares, crying, becoming more aggressive or more withdrawn, are all signs and symptoms that they have been severely traumatized. Many have already been displaced multiple times before. They have seen their homes destroyed, family members killed, and many are now living with debilitating injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Although children are resilient and often able to bounce back from these types of traumatic experiences, they need dedicated support to do so. In Idlib today, the humanitarian community has been struggling to meet even the most basic needs of those who have become displaced, so there is a very real risk that these extremely vulnerable children will fall through the cracks and experience long term developmental issues.”
One father, whose house was hit by a missile when his four-year-old son was just four metres away from it, spoke to the IRC about the impact the conflict has had on his children:
“Whenever my youngest hears a plane, he runs into the house and gets under the pillows. When the missile hit our home, he was only four meters away. Thank God it hit an empty place and the wall was strong. Since then, he has been very scared. Back home, he used to keep looking up to the sky afraid that aircrafts could strike anytime. He used to run quickly to the basement whenever he heard them. Yesterday, he saw a helicopter and screamed to his mom that he wants the basement of our former home to come here so that he can hide in it.”
Despite urgent and repeated calls for a ceasefire in Idlib, the fighting shows no signs of stopping and it continues to be civilians who pay the highest price. Reports suggest that at least 70 people have been killed in the past week, with dozens more injured and thousands still fleeing for their lives each day in search of safety.
Close to a million people have been forced to leave their homes since December 1 – including 40 IRC staff – and locations that were once thought to be safe continue to be attacked. Today, reports are emerging that a barn being used as a shelter by recently displaced families was hit by airstrikes with 35 people killed and the death toll expected to rise.
“The immediate future of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to flee their homes over the past three months looks grim,” Rehana Zawar said. “The sub-zero temperatures of a few weeks ago took the lives of at least seven children, and - although it is no longer so bitterly cold - there are still around 17,000 people living outside in the open. Over half a million of those who have been displaced since December are children and, as people continue to become displaced, the need for shelter, food and support to help them cope with what they’ve been through continues to grow. It is a truly desperate situation. People are losing hope. They need peace and they need respite. And the only way they can get that is with an immediate ceasefire and accountability for the violations of international law that have been perpetrated against Syrian civilians in this conflict.”