Audio diary: This is the reality in Idlib, Syria

IDLIB, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 19: Abandoned and destroyed buildings are seen in Ariha district in Idlib, Syria on February 19, 2020. Ariha district located in south of Idlib has turned into a ghost town while civilians were fleing towards Turkish border due to the attacks of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its supporters. (Photo by Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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In this audio diary, Cristian Reynders, Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) project coordinator for northwestern Syria, shares his personal reflections on the massive humanitarian crisis resulting from the latest military offensive in Idlib province. On February 25, the Syrian government and its allies launched indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas in Idlib, including schools where displaced people had sought refuge. Three hospitals supported by MSF received 185 wounded patients, including children, and 18 people who were dead on arrival. This journal was recorded the day after the attacks at an MSF coordination office outside Syria.

Just try to picture: you’re at the end of the afternoon, beginning of the evening. You are in a place where you feel safe—in your house, or in a room. You are preparing your meal, having a tea, watching the kids playing….

And then everything is engulfed in flames. Under a huge loud noise. And everything goes crumbling. And that’s what happened yesterday [February 25]. 

And everybody went from a situation where you are just happily enjoying your late afternoon … to a situation of basically despair—the death of yourself, or the ones you love, of your children, of your beloved ones.

That’s what happened yesterday, without any warning.

And now picture this also: You are a doctor. You are already not equipped. Your hospital is not in good shape. And now you have tens of people—wounded, bleeding, with limbs falling off, legs amputated, arms amputated, and you need to save them, sometimes without anesthesia. 

And you are responding to this, knowing that maybe the next bomb will be for you—and that you might be the next one in flames, while you are performing your duty as a doctor.

That’s what happened yesterday.

We had contacts with the medical staff. Their voices were shattered with emotion. They were just hanging on, hoping on. I cannot even describe it. Their voices were like … they could barely talk.

So, that’s the horror of this story. You have 3 million people today who are trapped [in Idlib]. They are trapped. and there is nowhere to be safe.

So there is a level of despair of the population, feeling completely abandoned.

It’s bigger than all of us, indeed. But this is our job, our purpose. And we are doing it. Support to hospitals? We are giving everything we can: materials, equipment, surgical, first aid.

But what can we do when hospitals are being bombed? What can we do? We are facing … we can call it a human crisis, a humanity crisis. I don’t know.…

There are institutions that have been built—there are states that have signed conventions to specifically avoid this situation. [They have pledged] to protect hospitals and medical structures, to protect human life, to hold accountable whoever commits atrocities. Where are these institutions?

We are powerless in this. The only thing we can do is scream with our lungs and try to mobilize the ones that have this responsibility. And they have a huge responsibility in their hands, which is to preserve human life.

In Idlib that’s the only thing they just keep hoping for: to preserve human life. And, well, their hopes are lowering by the minute, by the day.

We offer them all the support we can. And practically speaking, in just the last three or four weeks we have done a total of five donations of medical equipment, surgical equipment, first aid equipment and [other] materials. We are preparing an additional donation as we speak, for them to be able to cope with this situation, to basically support the doctors in performing their duties, their life-saving duties towards the population. This is what we have done and are continuously doing. We are participating to help ensure that the health system, as overstretched as it is, manages to survive.

But what can we do when or if a bomb falls on a hospital? No matter what medicine or equipment we provide, how can we reassure the doctors that everything is going to be fine, when yesterday bombs fell, like, 100 meters away from the hospitals? That’s the reality today in Idlib.

All the credit is to be given to the medical staff who are performing their duties day and night, in terrible conditions.