UN: Syria faces ‘unprecedented’ levels of internal displacement

Syria has witnessed unprecedented levels of internal displacement not seen throughout the seven-year conflict with more than one million forced to flee, a UN report said on Wednesday.

The 24-page report by the UN Commission of Inquiry – to be presented at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 17 – detailed the ordeal many Syrians have faced in the last six months.

“As pro-government forces moved to recapture large swathes of territory from armed groups and terrorist organisations, over one million Syrian men, women, and children were displaced with most now living in dire conditions,” said the report.

It noted combatants on the ground failed to take any action to protect civilians.

“No one is acting according to their responsibilities, human rights wise or otherwise,” commissioner Karen Abuzayed told Al Jazeera.

“Everyone is to blame and is following their own interests. It’s a disaster for the people who have no way to defend themselves.” 

‘Compulsory displacement’

Civilians were forced to survive in tents or abandoned buildings in the northwest and living on extremely limited humanitarian aid, the report said. 

Since 2014, the Syrian government and armed opposition groups have reached a series of reconciliation agreements in a number of besieged areas, mainly aiming to allow fighters to leave government-surrounded towns for opposition-held areas in Idlib province, which borders to the north. 

While the Syrian government positively regards such reconciliation agreements, armed groups and activists, however, view them as “compulsory displacement” aiming to reshape the demographic structure of the country. 

With a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive looming, the three-member UN commission also warned against a major attack on Idlib – the last remaining rebel stronghold – and called on all parties to guarantee the safety of the three million civilians there.

The report warned an attack on Idlib “with little regard for civilian life would generate a catastrophic human rights and humanitarian crisis”. 

War crimes in Idlib?

President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to retake the province, backed by his Russian and Iranian allies. Syrian government and Russian warplanes began air strikes in Idlib last week.

Syrians flee the Idlib offensive

France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday the bombing by Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces in the northwestern province could amount to war crimes.

“The hypothesis of war crimes cannot be excluded … once one begins to indiscriminately bomb civilian populations and hospitals,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers.

“The situation is extremely serious. We are on the eve of a considerable humanitarian and security catastrophe,” he said.

On September 7, a summit in Tehran failed to produce a clear agreement between Russia, Turkey, and Iran on the fate of Idlib.

A ceasefire suggested by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was rejected and a full-fledged government offensive now appears imminent, in what is expected to be Syria’s deadliest battle yet.

Idlib is the last barrier standing between the Syrian government and its military victory against a rebellion that began in March 2011.

“Idlib should not become the next massacre, the final massacre in the battles in Syria and common sense now needs to prevail,” commissioner Hanny Megally told reporters after the release of the report. 

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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