“We are still here”; 8 years on, millions of civilians in Syria wait on the verge of catastrophe

Published: Mar 11, 2019 Reading time: 7 minutes
“We are still here”; 8 years on, millions of civilians in Syria wait on the verge of catastrophe
© Omar Khattab

Idlib, Syria (March 11th, 2019) - On Friday, 15th of March, the war in Syria will enter its ninth year. Even after eight years of conflict, every third Syrian is displaced in his own country, two in every three Syrians are in need of assistance and 5 million people are in living in areas of “catastrophic, critical or severe” need.

The situation is particularly acute in Idlib, where one and a half million civilians from other parts of Syria have sought refuge, doubling the population of a province already devastated by eight years of war. Close to one million of Idlib’s current inhabitants are children. Trapped between the Syrian government forces and the closed Turkish border, these three million civilians now have nowhere else to go.

After eight years of bombings, eight years of food shortages, and eight years of watching their children growing up knowing only war, these people fear two even more disastrous events: that pro-government forces will launch a military offensive, or that lifesaving aid will be withdrawn.

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These threats have been justified because of the continuing presence of extremists in the province. But it is ordinary civilians – most of whom have in fact suffered at the hands of hardline groups – who will bear the brunt of the consequences if aid is withdrawn or a new military offensive launched.

“They are shopkeepers, farmers, teachers and more than a million children. These are the people our staff speak to every day in the course of our work,” says Tomas Kocian, People in Need’s Regional Director for Middle East. “On a daily basis they struggle with rising prices, and a lack of job opportunities and access to health and education services. Despite being in the so-called ‘de-escalation zone,’ ongoing clashes between various armed groups in the province and its surroundings continue to compromise the safety of civilians, forcing repeated displacement and further deepening people’s dependence on humanitarian aid,” he adds.

Their message is simple: ‘We are still here. Don’t forget us.’ “It is urgent that these 3 million civilians are protected from a potential humanitarian catastrophe,” says Tomas Kocian.

#StayWithUs: The people of Idlib

Among the 3 million ordinary people caught up in one of the worst situations imaginable is schoolteacher Bassam. Despite eight years of war, which forced him to flee his home and his job, Bassam has always continued teaching – often without payment. He tries to maintain a sense of optimism, but he did want us to send a message to the world: “It is a great tragedy in Syria. I can say the international community, both governments and people, have let the Syrian people down.”

Ragheb used to work in a cardboard factory until it was struck by airstrikes. Now he is working in a PIN-supported project to clear bombing debris from the streets, fix water and sewage networks, and clean schools. “I cannot predict or guess what is going to happen in future in Syria,” he told us. “My wish for now is to be able to go back to my village and send my children to school without worrying for their safety.”


Abdo is a father of six children, the youngest only one year old. His family had first fled from rural Homs to Idlib, but then had to move again only three weeks ago because of bombardment. “The children were unable to sleep or rest because of the sound of the shellings and fear.” We spoke to him at a temporary camp in Idlib, where People in Need and European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Department are providing emergency food kits. “I appeal to the United Nations and the international community,” he told us, “there should be a peaceful settlement in Syria so that people can go back to their homes. All states let us down; the Syrian people are the victims. The displaced people are the victims. I am realistic and actually I think the worst is yet to come.”

In northern Idlib, 57-year-old Abdul-Rahman is still persisting with his small farm. This year, he has planted cabbage, lettuce and parsley seeds (with support from People in Need and Welthungerhilfe) to provide an income for his family. Despite all that has happened, including the loss of three of his children in airstrikes, he is hoping for a safer future. 

11-year-old Hasan, whose family had fled the conflict and shelling, has been out of school for three years, as most temporary camps for displaced people have no educational facilities. But he has just started at a new educational facility, run by People in Need (with support from UNICEF).

9-year-old Lujain has missed school repeatedly due to years of upheaval and uncertainty. She was recently given the chance to join a remedial class supported by People in Need and European Union Neighbourhood Instrument, where she is flourishing. But she is also keenly aware of the fact that she cannot visit her family members who have already fled to Lebanon and Turkey. “I miss my aunt so much,” she told us.

Widow Hayat told us, “I feel really afraid for my children… My 18-year-old son was killed in an airstrike three years ago and both my husband and my daughter died because of poor healthcare services. I am afraid we might have to flee again.”

As Mohammad, a PIN staff member who was a secondary school teacher before the war, says: “We are doing our best. We try to help each other. A lot of people won’t accept rent from families they know can’t afford it. Most of the people I know are supporting at least one other family.” But he has a message for the rest of the world, which underlines the seriousness of the situation. “We are here. We are afraid. We are being killed, we are still under shelling after eight years. We hope there will be a reconciliation between the fighters. The people of Syria deserve a better life.”

Snapshot Idlib:

  • Current population: 3.0 million
  • 2 million people in need of some sort of humanitarian assistance
  • Over 900,000 people in “acute” need
  • 610,000 new arrivals in the last year alone, or more than the population of Luxembourg
  • Three out of every four camps and settlements have no education services at all

(Source: UN figures 2019)


PIN’s vital interventions in Syria

PIN and its partners on the ground have been directly involved in the provision of relief aid in northern Syria since 2012. In early 2012, PIN began supporting an informal network of Syrian doctors, equipping the professionals with the materials necessary to more effectively treat the injured and carry out life-saving operations. Over the last six years, PIN has grown to become a key provider of humanitarian aid in northern Syria, and currently supports an average of over 230,000 people every month.

PIN aid in Syria in numbers:

  • 24,000 families receive subsidised bread each month
  • 7,500 families receive monthly food parcels
  • 9,000 families receive monthly food vouchers
  • 5,000 farmers have received vouchers for seeds and tools in 2018 
  • 19,000 emergency once-off cash grants were provided in 2018, to assist some of the most vulnerable people with their immediate needs, including food, shelter, and water for families after displacement.
  • 7,923 people inside Syria were employed by PIN in 2018 to clean debris, rehabilitate roads, repair water infrastructure and power lines or teach and care for children in kindergartens as part of a cash-for-work initiative
  • 498 households received assistance in 2018 to help prepare for the additional difficulties of winter
  • 468 students were supported through TVET courses
  • 1554 families received kits with items for daily use

People in need is responding to the humanitarian crisis in Idlib by providing multi-sectoral assistance including food aid; support to water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and services; agricultural support to farmers and communities; employment opportunities and training and educational support.

We would like to thank all the members of the Czech public who donated to SOS Syria appeals, Real Aid or via PIN’s Club of Friends. Funding has also been generously provided by European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the European Union Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), the Swiss government, the United States’ Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the United States’ Office of Food for Peace (FFP), the UK government, UNICEF, and the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For more information, please contact:

Tomáš Kocian, People in Need’s Regional Director for Middle East, +420 777 787 970, tomas.kocian@peopleinneed.cz

Author: People in Need

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