Syria: Situation critical for tens of thousands displaced over 10 days

Situation report from Muskilda Zancada, MSF Syria Head of Mission

Renewed fighting in Azaz district, Aleppo governorate in northern Syria, where MSF runs a 52 bed hospital, has led to a new displacement crisis since April 10. More than 35,000 people have fled displaced people camps taken over by the Islamic State group, or that are too close to front lines. There are now more than 100,000 people gathered at border areas with Turkey.

Muskilda Zancada MSF Syria Head of Mission gives us a situation update

Our main concerns at the moment are for the safety of newly displaced people. The situation is still critical for the tens of thousands who have been displaced over the last 12 days. Front lines remain active, and this of course reinforces people's fear.

I was talking with a colleague inside Syria today, and he was saying that everyone is very scared. They are afraid that with active frontlines, some as close as 7 km away, their safety is not assured.

It’s impossible to predict what will happen, the area is very kinetic and active, but in the last few days there have not been new people fleeing. We sincerely hope that the situation will stabilise, but it’s very difficult to know what will happen. What we do know is that the needs of these newly displaced people will remain significant in the immediate future.

What we are hearing from our teams inside Syria is that people are traumatised. Fleeing yet again is very traumatic and people are terrified. The fighting is close, and they are scared of the Islamic State group taking over different areas. They tell us they are feeling hopeless about their future. They gather whatever they can and seek the safest areas, but it’s not that safe. They are worried about meeting their basic needs. They need food, they need water, and sanitation is an issue. How they will survive is obviously a big and urgent concern for them.

MSF teams have been working under incredibly difficult conditions. We have had to reduce services in our hospital to life saving care for emergency cases. In these extremely challenging conditions, we have been able to carry out 1,200 emergency consultations since 10 April, when the latest phase of this crisis began. In addition, we have been able to treat 25 war wounded and and our teams have carried out deliveries of 16 babies.

The reduced team has been working very well, and we have not yet seen any worrying health indicators.

Meanwhile our second team, the one that manages donations and distributions of emergency relief items, have been doing excellent work. So far they have provided essential items such as mattresses, blankets and other basic items to more than 5,000 newly displaced people.

We are coordinating with other organisations and carrying out assessments to ensure that people’s urgent needs for food, water and sanitation can be met.

In this most recent displacement crisis, which started around 12 days ago, there were two main waves of people. The first wave, mostly fleeing displaced people’s camps, had time to gather their belongings. Remember, these are people who had already been displaced. They managed to move with their tents, jerry cans and other relief items.

The second flow of people had to flee rapidly approaching fighting. They had to rush away very quickly and were not able to bring much of anything.  As a result, they are the ones who are most in need. They need shelter and the basics with which to survive. They came from western Azaz and had been scattered there since February, staying in improvised settings, wherever they could.

Now there are a significant number who are accommodated in towns, and in collective centres, in schools and squares.

We are not seeing intense pressure at the border areas by the newly displaced gathering there. Regarding reports of Turkish soldiers shooting Syrians trying to cross, we know about the reports, but MSF cannot confirm that this has happened and we have not received any cases in our hospital.

The border has been closed for more than one year, but a limited number of humanitarian workers are allowed to cross back and forth, as well as medical doctors who can cross under controlled conditions. We have not faced any problems referring emergency life-saving cases from Syria into facilities inside Turkey. All referrals have happened with no problems.

There has also been intense fighting in Aleppo city, and we are very concerned about the situation there. Yet again, we see the medical staff that MSF supports in the city facing unimaginable pressure. We have been able to reach the 23 health facilities we support with regular donations of the medical supplies and fuel they need to continue offering care.

What concerns us is that the fighting will increase the risk of people becoming besieged. There is only one road in and out of Aleppo that is not under the control of the government of Syria and if this route is closed, then we fear the situation will be very grave. It would likely create a siege situation for the 250,000 or so people living in the non-government held parts of Aleppo. They would be added to the grim list of between 1.5 and 2 million people who are already living under siege in Syria.

MSF runs six medical facilities across northern Syria and supports more than 150 health centres and hospitals across the country, many of them in besieged areas. MSF’s hospital in Azaz district has doubled its capacity since February when fighting brought thousands of internally displaced people into the area.