By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) – With more and more civilians displaced by attacks in northwestern Syria towards the Turkish border, the UN said Friday it is revising upwards to plan for the needs of over a million displaced people.
Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva that around 900,000 people had been displaced in Idlib, northwestern Syria since Dec. 1 alone, “exceeding the humanitarian community’s worst-case planning figures.”
“We initially sought to help 800,000 displaced people over the next six months. We are now planning to address the needs of 1.1 million people,” said Laerke.
On Thursday UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said he supports calls for a cessation of hostilities, saying: “We need an end to the fighting, and access to safety to preserve lives.”
Laerke said most of the displaced – an estimated 60% – are minors.
Most of the displaced have moved into increasingly crowded areas towards the border between Idlib and Turkey, said Laerke.
Some 330,000 of the 900,000 have fled to areas in northern Aleppo province adjacent to Idlib.
Of the newly displaced, 170,000 are estimated to be living in the open or unfinished buildings, he added.
More than 280,000 are staying in camps which are already stretched beyond capacity, or in makeshift camps where they set up individual tents but where there are no essential services such as latrines.
“In the freezing winter, many people have resorted to burning their spare clothes, pieces of furniture, or materials that let out toxic fumes,” said Laerke.
“The frontlines and relentless violence continues to move closer to these areas packed with displaced people, with bombardments increasingly affecting displacement sites and their vicinity.”
He said the UN is calling for an immediate ceasefire to prevent further suffering and what it fears may result in a bloodbath.
Idlib, near Turkey's southern border, falls within a de-escalation zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018. The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the territory where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The de-escalation zone is currently home to about 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-torn country.
Some 1 million Idlib refugees have moved towards the Turkish border in recent months, fleeing attacks by the Assad regime and its allies, and causing a desperate humanitarian situation.
Turkey has called for an immediate halt to the attacks on Idlib, and for the cease-fire to be followed, warning that if the attacks do not stop Turkey will take action.