Two top level international meetings due to take place today could be the last hope for preventing disaster for over 2.5 million Syrian civilians living in Idlib, in the country’s north-west, as an attack looms.
The UN Security Council will meet today to discuss the situation in Idlib, following an earlier meeting between the leaders of Iran, Russia, and Turkey in Tehran.
There have been reports of airstrikes this week in western Idlib – the last governorate under control of armed groups.
Oxfam’s Country Director in Syria Moutaz Adham said Oxfam was calling on the entire international community to urgently work together to prevent a new humanitarian catastrophe, which the UN estimated could force 800,000 people to flee.
“It’s clear that the situation in Idlib is already dire,” Mr Adham said. “The population of Idlib has roughly doubled, as people have fled conflict elsewhere – putting an increased strain on water supplies, shelter and other humanitarian support.
“We have seen the devastation caused by conflict time and again, in Aleppo, in Eastern Ghouta and in Dar’a. A major conflict in Idlib would result in a catastrophe unlike anything we have seen before. The international community simply must come together to find a solution to help those civilians who are simply trying to survive, and prevent an escalation of violence on any side.”
The governorate has been described by the UN as a “dumping ground for fighters and civilians” evacuated from areas of Syria retaken by the Government. It has seen regular fighting between the different armed groups, providing only a fragile sanctuary for those civilians who fled violence in other parts of the country.
Idlib was named a de-escalation zone by Russia, Iran and Turkey, as part of agreements made at peace talks in the Khazak capital Astana.
Oxfam is preparing to respond to any humanitarian emergency in Idlib, in the first instance by providing clean water, sanitation facilities, and items like blankets, clothes and soap. However, access for aid agencies has been limited throughout Syria’s seven-year civil war.
“Preventing violence must be the number one priority, but with an already bleak humanitarian situation, we urge all those involved to ensure Oxfam and others can provide urgent aid to people in desperate need,” Mr Adham said.
Oxfam Australia has welcomed the Australian Government’s continued commitment to support Syrians affected by the ongoing civil war, with $433 million in humanitarian assistance provided or pledged since 2011. The organisation encouraged the Government to continue to push for a political solution to this humanitarian crisis.
Oxfam Australia has funding from the Australian Government to help support Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as Jordanian and Lebanese households living in poverty. Oxfam’s support is centred on helping refugees to find work or set up small businesses, to help support themselves and their families.
For interviews with Oxfam spokespeople in the Middle East or Australia, please contact Dylan Quinnell on 0450 668 350 or firstname.lastname@example.org