Civilians at risk in North East Syria
ACT Alliance is concerned by the desperate situation of the thousands of civilians in northeast Syria whose safety has been put at risk by the launch of the Turkish military offensive.
Civilians have already been displaced and some vital services have been interrupted, including medical facilities and water supplies. ACT Members and their partners working in the area are concerned by the news that agencies report staff fleeing with their families, while others are on lockdown.
An estimated 450,000 people live within 5km of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritise the protection of civilians. According to the latest estimates nearly 200,000 people have fled their homes since the beginning of the incursion.The population includes more than 90,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), who have already been forced to flee at least once in Syria’s unrelenting war. Before the incursion Turkey was pressing for a wider buffer zone of 30 km deep and close to 500 km across, which would put even more people at risk.
According to UN OCHA, there are at least 1,650,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance in north- east Syria. The life-saving humanitarian response is being threatened as instability forces aid agencies to suspend or relocate their programming and staff. With an ongoing major crisis in Idlib and huge needs across the country, the aid response in Syria is already stretched to the breaking point.
The ACT Alliance JSL Forum is urging parties to the conflict to fully respect International Humanitarian Law (IHL). They must ensure all measures are taken to protect civilians and facilitate safe, unhindered humanitarian access.
Likewise, there must be no forcible returns of any refugees living in Turkey to Syria. According to the Government of Turkey, an estimated 83 per cent of the three million Syrians in Turkey do not originate from the North East. Forced return and resettlement of Syrian refugees in the intended buffer zone would constitute a blatant violation of international law, the principle of non-refoulement, and is anticipated to impact composition of the population in the area, destabilising the current political and administrative landscape with potential for ethnic tensions . The UN is calling for the protection of civilians and the principles of humanity to be respected. It is currently unclear if and how humanitarian access to the area will be facilitated.
The situation in the country is already fragile, and extra care must be taken to ensure that all children are protected and provided humanitarian assistance. Children in North East Syria, who are already living in dire conditions, are extremely vulnerable to the rapid deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation.
ACT Alliance Members urge those with power to put additional pressure to ensure the safety of all civilians, knowing that many Christians in the area including Armenians, Syriacs, and Assyrians are particularly vulnerable to displacement due to past incursions from Turkish military in the region.
Urgent action is needed to ensure that the humanitarian situation in northeast Syria does not worsen further, with potentially dire consequences for families and children who find themselves once again caught up in a deadly spiral of violence.
ACT Alliance calls on the international community to ensure the protection of civilians and the end of violence in North East Syria.