MSF scales up response to massive humanitarian crisis in northwestern Syria

Since December 1, MSF teams have distributed essential relief items to respond to the needs of newly displaced people in various locations in rural northern Idlib province.
Syria 2020 © MSF
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New York, February 28, 2020—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is preparing to urgently scale up medical assistance and aid distribution to thousands of people displaced in northwestern Syria and is asking Turkish authorities to immediately facilitate the movement of MSF staff and essential supplies.

Since December 1, 2019, more than 948,000 people have been uprooted by indiscriminate bombing and shelling on Idlib province—including medical facilities and schools housing displaced families—according to the United Nations (UN). Forced displacement of this scale has not been seen in nine years of war in Syria.

“You have three million people today who are trapped," said Cristian Reynders, MSF project coordinator for northwestern Syria. "They are trapped and there is nowhere to be safe. So there is a level of despair of the population feeling completely abandoned. We are facing a human crisis, a humanity crisis.”

Most of the displaced people—many of whom have been forced to flee multiple times—are trapped in a small area between the closed Turkish border and advancing Syrian government forces. The camps are overcrowded, and there are not enough tents to accommodate new arrivals, forcing people to sleep in freezing temperature on the street, in abandoned buildings, or under makeshift shelters. Water and sanitation facilities in the camps are inadequate, increasing the risk of water-related diseases, such as acute watery diarrhea or hepatitis A.

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"New people are arriving in the area, but they’re not coming to Deir Hassan camp, because here it’s full," said Dr. Mustafa Ajaj  who worked at a primary health center supported by MSF in Takad before he was forced to flee with his family. "Instead they’re setting up their tents two or three kilometers away. People are dependent on aid, but there just isn’t enough to go around.

On February 27, MSF began distributing 300 tons of compressed wood fuel blocks to more than 20,000 people. Distribution will take place over the next two weeks in 23 displacement camps in northwestern Syria to provide a safer alternative to current heating methods. Recently a family of four died of suffocation after burning poor quality fuel to heat their tent. 

People urgently need other essential items to protect them from the cold, such as blankets, mattresses, and warm clothes. MSF teams are currently organizing a supply of tents and relief items for 800 families.

MSF plans to significantly scale-up its activities in northwestern Syria in the coming weeks, including distributing essential relief items such as tents, cooking sets, floor mats, and blankets. MSF is also planning to provide trauma care and to reinforce basic healthcare for the displaced. But MSF’s ability to increase its assistance depends on the Turkish authorities facilitating the movement of supplies and international staff to the area across the Turkish border. MSF currently has no international staff present in northwestern Syria and many of its Syrian staff are exhausted and need support after years of working in extremely difficult conditions.

MSF has no permanent presence in Turkey. To be able to scale up our response, MSF asks all relevant Turkish authorities to immediately facilitate the transit of staff and essential supplies into northwest Syria.

Since the conflict intensified in northwestern Syria in December 2019, MSF has provided more than 260,000 gallons of clean water per day to about 41,000 displaced people, built more than 100 latrines in camps around Sarmadah area, and distributed survival relief items to 2,000 families.

In February 2020, MSF teams also distributed 600 non-food item kits, including blankets, winter clothes, and hygiene kits to displaced people in camps and several informal settlements in Maraat Misrin and Killi areas in Idlib governorate.

MSF has also provided donations of emergency medical supplies to hospitals on the front lines of the conflict.

Across northwestern Syria, MSF teams provide maternal health care, general health care, and treatment for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through mobile clinics. MSF  teams distribute relief items and improve water and sanitation systems. They also support regular vaccination activities in two vaccination centers, one hospital, and through mobile clinics.

MSF also runs a specialized burn unit that provides surgery, skin grafts, dressings, physiotherapy, and psychological support. MSF provides remote support to primary and secondary health care to several hospitals and clinics around Idlib and Aleppo, and has co-management partnerships with three hospitals. 

Deir Hassan Camp
A view of the overcrowded Deir Hassan camp.
Syria 2020 © Abdul Majeed Al Qareh