The doctors, nurses, and humanitarians of Idlib are inviting UN Secretary General António Guterres to go to Syria, to stand with them and see the impact of the daily bombings and targeted attacks on humanitarians.
By the UN’s own figures, 700,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since December as the situation in Idlib becomes more dire by the day. Most of the displaced, half of whom are children, are taking shelter in muddy tents near the Turkish border in rain, snow and below freezing temperatures. It’s the worst crisis Syria has seen in nine years.
Aerial attacks by the Syrian regime and Russia have killed at least 180 civilians since the start of the year. 53 health facilities have been forced to close because of bombing or after the regime captured new areas. Within 24 hours in February, three hospitals were bombed out of service.
This deliberate targeting of health facilities comes at a time when they’re most needed by civilians experiencing daily massacres.
In January UN investigators probing attacks on hospitals in northwest Syria delayed their publication, pushing justice for civilians further into the long grass and sending a message of impunity to the Syrian regime and Russia as they continue to deliberately target hospitals.
The doctors and medical staff in these photos are calling on the UN Secretary General Guterres to visit Idlib like he’s visited other disaster areas. They’re hoping he’ll take a stand with those who were forced to flee their homes and see for himself how a member state of the Security Council is committing war crimes.
So far there’s been no response from Guterres.
The UN was established in the wake of the second world war to ensure that ‘never again’ would the world condone such carnage. Russia’s abuse of its veto in the security council and total impunity as it bombs hospitals, kindergartens, and markets in Idlib is the UN’s final test.
Guterres must act to prove that international law has not become meaningless. Otherwise the global principles espoused since WW2 will have been completely abandoned. In the face of utter failure by UN member states and agencies, visiting Idlib is the least Guterres can do.
You can stand in solidarity with the doctors and humanitarians on the ground by posting your own message using #GuterresVisitIdlib.
Dr Munzer Khalil, Idlib Health Director, says:
“Since April 2019, at least 1.2 million civilians have been forced to flee their homes in Idlib province. Most of them are seeking shelter in northern Idlib, but the catastrophe is that the camps are already 400% overcapacity and can’t host any newcomers. We see at least four families living in single family tents and people are suffering hugely from the lack of food and drinking water.”
“Unclean water is causing an unprecedented high rate of transmitted diseases among the residents, hitting the most vulnerable, women, and children the hardest.”
“From a health perspective, 48 health facilities have been directly targeted since April. During January 2020 alone, 53 health facilities suspended their work either due to bombardment, evacuation for security reasons, or because of mass displacement of residents where the facility operates.”
“Since the last attack on al-Shami hospital in Ariha, the areas of Maarat al-Numan, Ariha, and Saraqeb are completely without any health facility. There are still civilians living in Ariha and Jabal al-Zawiya, but they have no health care services because whenever we open any small medical point or health center, it is directly targeted by Russian and regime warplanes.”
“Our partners and colleagues shared coordinates of their health facilities with the UN hoping it would protect them, but then all of these facilities were targeted and bombed even more precisely and more severely. Most facilities were completely destroyed out of service.”
“Russia is clearly mocking the UN and International Humanitarian Law, destroying the health infrastructure in northwest Syria.”
“The Syrian regime, along with its Russian ally, want to kill any form of livelihood in the northwest where they’ve been deliberately targeting hospitals, civil defence centers, schools, bakeries, and even places of worship.”
“In the face of these attacks, our doctors, nurses, and medical staff across the province gathered to send a message: ‘We will stay here, we will keep saving lives, and we will keep planting hope amongst darkness’.”
Dr. Ikram Habboush, manager of the maternity and children hospital in Idlib city, says:
“I want the whole world to hear my message. We’re in 2020, millions of civilians trapped in one province are being forcibly displaced, village by village. They are living under bombs, exposed to hunger, destruction, fear, and death. They have nowhere to go. They are being killed under the world’s watch.”
“I can’t believe that nobody is taking any action to stop this. How come nobody is able to stop this?”
As the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres is the world’s representative on international peace and security. It’s his job to call out war crimes, seek justice, and moderate for peace. He’s been in post for more than three years but he is yet to visit northwest Syria, which is facing the “world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe”.
Doctors and humanitarians in Idlib are calling him to visit to see for himself the realities they face everyday.
It’s not a crazy idea. Previous Secretary Generals have visited Sarajevo, Kosovo and Iraq.
Last month Syrian Critical Care specialist Dr Zaher Sahloul returned from a medical mission to displacement camps in Idlib:
“Voicing “deep concerns” [from] his UN office in NYC is not enough – he should visit Idlib like he has visited other disaster areas. We’re not sure why Gutteres has not responded so we figure it must be budget related. After all, the UN has warned that Idlib could become “the worst humanitarian catastrophe with the biggest loss of life in the 21st century”.