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The reality of displacement in Idlib: "Only the children were laughing"

The reality of displacement in Idlib: "Only the children were laughing"

The governorate of Idlib in northwest Syria has been under bombardment by Russian and Syrian forces since April of 2019, with an increased assault in December. Since December 16th, over 250,000 civilians have fled the bombardment in Idlib and many have been killed. One of SJAC’s team members based in Idlib was displaced from his family home in late December. SJAC asked that he share his story and what he has seen in Idlib.

“I live in a small village in the Idlib countryside. I was born and raised in this village. I loved her trees and her olives and swore I would never breathe any air other than hers for as long as I could. Then in December 2019 Russia began its aerial bombardment of our land, in one day there were more than 500 raids with tons of explosives. Every day the bombs would approach closer to us, shaking our homes with bombs falling about 50 km away from us. Then one day, the windows of our home were shattered from the impact of a bomb approaching closer.

I have small children – 5 years old – who left their toys when they heard the planes and ran for shelter in my lap; my children are so young they believed the lap of their father would protect them. As their father, I reassured them and told them that the planes they hear don’t hurt people. I was lying. I knew that I had to remain calm in front of my kids as the planes flew over us, knowing they were looking at my expression to gauge the danger from it.

Battling inside me was the desire I had to stay in my hometown and my fear of seeing my children hurt. As the bombardment escalated, we saw convoys of the displaced. There were many people on the roads moving north, with no idea where they are going, trying to flee the advance of the Syrian army and the Russian airstrikes. They were carrying everything that they could, fearing that the army would steal the belongings from their homes, because army officers were selling what the fleeing villagers left behind to brokers; even including the electric wires within the walls of homes.

لقطات من اوتستراد باب الهوى – إدلب تظهر حجم النزوح الضخم من ريفي إدلب الجنوبي والشرقي باتجاه المناطق الحدودية في إدلب وحلب.
لقطات من اوتستراد باب الهوى – إدلب تظهر حجم النزوح الضخم من ريفي إدلب الجنوبي والشرقي باتجاه المناطق الحدودية في إدلب وحلب.
Posted by ‎سوريا FM‎ on Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Footage of displacement convoys leaving Idlib (c) Syria FM

Once the army was closer to our village, about 20 km away, our village became displaced. That same day, Russian forces targeted a school in a village near us where displaced people were taking shelter, killing 9 people; their belongings which they packed in a truck remained. It was horrific moments like that which stunned us; when we could not recover the bodies until the civil defence (White Helmets) arrived, which had to wait until after the planes left the air as the displacement tents and hospitals are targets for Russian forces. At that time, for me, there was no other option than to leave.

As my family and I fled north for shelter, the journey started with frosty weather that was difficult for children to bear. I felt that I was luckier than others because I had a car which we could stay in on the roads near the border, keeping us out of the rain. Then, a friend of mine called me and let me know that he owns an unfinished building that we could stay in. This was the best news I had heard in my life. It was more beautiful than the day I graduated university with honors throughout all provinces of Idlib.

The news, though pleasant, still did not mask the reality of leaving our home. Before leaving, my mother put her hand on the door of our home, where we had written “welcome to our guests of the Most Gracious” after she had returned from Hajj and began to cry. My elderly father tried to hold back his tears but could not. My disabled uncle refused to leave and said “I will die in my home,” while his elderly wife asked me “is the world going to leave Russia and Bashar until they kill all of us?” Her neighbor, close in age to her, responded that she had heard news that President Trump would bring an end to Assad, and that she refuses to listen to any news other than that which gives her the hope of remaining in her homeland. Everyone was crying except the children, who were laughing because they do not know what is coming.

I heard stories of those displaced from my village trying to find shelter. My cousin found a place where he can leave his wife and kids only, so left them and he went walking all night in the streets of a new city so that he could escape the frost. My neighbor lost his son while escaping the fire.

Now my family and I are in an empty home far from what we know; with a future unclear and an escalating assault. And yet, I know we are of the lucky ones, who are not forced to sleep in the open air amidst freezing rains and with a family still intact. I hug my children and tell them that we will one day return to our home; reunited with the tree is our village and the olive branches, and to only breathe her air. This time, I do not know if I am lying.”

Just a few days before the team member’s village became displaced, Russia and China vetoed a 12-month renewal to a cross-border humanitarian aid act that would provide aid to Syrians through ports in Turkey and Iraq. With the massive displacement in Idlib, the implications of Russia and China blocking the renewal of the cross-border humanitarian aid resolution could impact hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, some of whom have been displaced multiple times.

"People are forced to leave their homes, they either face death or uncertainity of displacement to the northern Syrian IDP camps." Obada Zekra, Director of #MaaretalNuman Sector, on the situation of the city after days of brutal and relentless shelling. pic.twitter.com/3gSKvWoiCW
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) December 23, 2019

SJAC continues to call for the implementation of a permanent and lasting ceasefire in Idlib, with close monitoring and accountability of any and all violations. With hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced, Turkey must open its borders to refugees and asylum seekers, while receiving support from its allies to house these refugees. Since the cross-border humanitarian aid act was not renewed – at the wish of one of Idlib’s attackers – Syrians will be receiving even less humanitarian aid at a time when they need it even more.

For more information or to provide feedback, please contact SJAC at [email protected] and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to SJAC’s newsletter for updates on our work.