"Leaving home is the worst thing you can imagine," says Ahmad from Northwest Syria

Feb 5, 2020

“My name is Ahmad Abo Taher,* and I’m from the town of Ariha, in southern Idlib. I am 70 years old and have seven children. Until recently, we were all living in Ariha. 

In the last few weeks, however, we witnessed an escalation in airstrikes hitting Ariha; most of the [bombing] was at night. This was really horrific as we couldn’t see or know where the warplanes would hit, we just heard ambulances rushing to rescue the injured from under the rubble. An airstrike hit a hospital last week; it landed in front of our home and our home was partially damaged. 

We could not bear the situation anymore and my wife and I left for a nearby village where my daughter and her family were living. We returned a day later to pack our most important belongings and we moved to a town in northern Idlib. We only managed to bring a few things, including mattresses, carpets, clothes and a stove for heating in this cold winter. We left behind most of the furniture from our bedrooms and guest rooms, and even the kitchen equipment. It cost us 75,000 pounds ($70 USD) to rent a car to transfer what we could carry. For this, we were supported by the White Helmets, who gave us 45,000 pounds.

We bought the home where we were living just two months ago, and we spent everything we had saved on it: 9 million pounds (about $9,000 USD). Now we have lost everything. We have lost the money and we have lost access to our house. We lost the furniture we had been using all our lives. My children, who were also living in Ariha, left their homes as well and barely took anything, just some luggage. I was lucky that some acquaintances offered me and my wife a small room in a village near the border with Turkey where we could take shelter. 

Two of my children and my daughter and her in-laws rented an underground cellar in Idlib to shelter them. The home they rented is very crowded as there are various families with many children, all in a two-room underground home. They had no other choice: my sons could not find a better home to rent and even if they had found a better one, it would be unaffordable. Rents are skyrocketing due to the increasing demand. The day after they moved to the cellar, my son-in-law and his brother were going to a village near Ariha to evacuate their families and bring out their luggage, when a war plane hit them directly. The older brother died quickly and my son-in-law was taken to the hospital with severe injuries; he passed away the following day, leaving my daughter a widow. I was really shocked when I received the news and I could do nothing but cry.

Thank God my children and I are able to take shelter in a cellar and under a roof. Many people who fled their homes could not find a home and do not have a tent to provide shelter. A number of displaced families are staying in the homes of their relatives and acquaintances in northern Idlib and in the countryside of Aleppo. I have also seen many families spending the night in their own cars, with plans to continue their journey in the morning and to keep looking for somewhere safe where they can protect their families. I have also heard of many cases where people have spent the night out in the wild. The situation in Idlib and in the countryside is beyond imagination and things are getting worse every day. The sounds of shelling and airstrikes are really horrifying, even when they hit in a remote area. I do not know what is going to happen next, but I can say things are getting worse and it does not seem like things will be better soon. Leaving home is the worst thing one can imagine.

Now I feel like I should be settling in, but I am not in my own home and I do not know how much longer I will be able to stay here.”

* Name changed for security reasons

The current emergency in northwest Syria

With the escalation of violence in December of 2019 and the renewal of hostilities in January and February of this year, more than 586,000 people have fled from southern Idlib and western Aleppo provinces to move further north. 

During the nearly nine-year-long war, Idlib has been a destination for people forced to flee violence in other parts of Syria. As other cities grew more dangerous, Idlib served as a refuge for hundreds of thousands of people.

In recent days, however, Idlib has come under attack by the Syrian government and Russian forces, leaving civilians trapped. Local sources have reported to the United Nations that more than 180 civilians have been killed due to hostilities since January 1, including 60 children and 27 women. People in Need (PIN), along with seven other international NGOs, called for an urgent ceasefire last week.

The people in Idlib and Aleppo provinces have few options: they can remain and risk their lives. Or, they can leave, often under miserable conditions, moving further north to the Euphrates Shield area. While it is safer there, the area is becoming overcrowded.

Harsh winter conditions are exacerbating the vulnerability of this population, as is the

devaluation of the Syrian pound, which has made essential goods unaffordable. Many people have fled several times during the course of the war, which makes families and communities even more vulnerable as they find themselves in urgent need of humanitarian support such as shelter. 

Video from December 2019

PIN’s humanitarian response

PIN has been working in Idlib province for almost eight years. As soon as the government of Syria began to intensify its large-scale offensive last December, PIN initiated an emergency response to assist fleeing families. Following a comprehensive rapid-needs assessment, PIN distributed 3,146 ready-to-eat rations and 5,902 cash grants across the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, in addition to 3,300 hygiene kits that include basic items such as towels, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, a washtub, and washing powder.

The distributions were organized in different batches to ensure the inclusion of newly displaced households, which continue to arrive in the targeted areas. Despite the challenges, PIN has not stopped providing assistance in northern Syria, and in the coming days, PIN is planning to deliver additional humanitarian aid. To date, PIN has confirmed plans for the distribution of an additional 2,840 cash grants and 3,000 ready-to-eat rations.

PIN is also closely following security developments and the flows of displaced people toward the northern border with Turkey, continually assessing the best way to broaden and/or redirect the scope of our assistance to the most vulnerable populations.

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Author: People in Need