International NGOs call for the urgent protection of civilians in northwest Syria
The members of the Syria INGO Regional Forum (SIRF) express grave concern about the plight of civilians in northwest Syria, where violence has escalated exponentially in the last two weeks. We are calling on all parties to the conflict to immediately implement a ceasefire, respect international humanitarian law and urgently increase access for humanitarian purposes.
With over 3 million civilians trapped in the area, the situation in the northwest had already reached a crisis point. Now conditions have rapidly deteriorated further: in the last two weeks alone, an estimated 180,000 individuals have fled north due to intensive airstrikes and bombings. In the same two-week period, at least 15 health facilities and 16 schools are reported to have been significantly damaged or destroyed and at least two health workers were killed.
SIRF members are particularly concerned by failure to respect the United Nation’s “de-confliction” system. Hospitals and schools serving civilian and humanitarian services shared their location with parties to the conflict to avoid attack. Yet, at least four such “de-conflicted” locations have been hit in this recent escalation. Failure to distinguish between military targets and civilian facilities, especially those who have identified themselves, is a violation of international humanitarian law.
This increase in violence is also limiting the ability of humanitarian agencies to ensure people in need have access to basic services such as emergency health care, water, food, and shelter. Large numbers of newly-displaced people have put already overstretched services under additional, unsustainable strain. In many cases, humanitarian workers are taking great risks to deliver life-saving aid.
To date, at least 16 humanitarian organisations have been forced to suspend their operations in the areas most affected by the conflict, as their own staff are becoming displaced and key health and other infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed by the violence. International humanitarian law dictates that parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need.
SIRF unequivocally condemns the escalation of violence and attacks on schools, hospitals and civilians. SIRF further joins its Syrian-led NGO colleagues from the Syrian NGO Alliance and ARCS networks in calling on all parties to:
- implement an immediate ceasefire;
- protect the more than three million civilians living in the area;
- ensure humanitarian relief workers, public facilities, hospitals, schools and infrastructure are protected; and
- ensure those in need can access critical lifesaving and life-sustaining aid.
SIRF is an alliance of 70 leading international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) working in Syria. SIRF exists to give voice to INGOs conducting humanitarian responses in the region and to facilitate their collective engagement.