Babies freezing to death in Syrian camps as fighting flares in Idlib

More than a quarter of Idlib's population has been displaced after recent fighting, with many living in nearby camps.

A camp in Idlib.

A camp in Idlib. Source: Save the Children

Children forced to escape fighting in the Syrian province of Idlib are dying from freezing temperatures and "horrific" living conditions within camps, an advocacy group said on Wednesday.

Save the Children said at least seven children, including one baby who was seven months old, have been confirmed killed in the harsh winter.

It comes as fighting has escalated in the area since late last year, with Syrian troops mounting an offensive on the country's last major rebel enclave.

The group said more than a quarter of Idlib is now displaced, with more than 80,000 people living in open fields covered in snow.

As many as 450,000 children have been forced to flee their homes in Idlib.
Source: Save the Children

"As more civilians desperately seek safety on Syria's border with Turkey, we're worried that the death toll will increase given the absolutely inhumane living conditions that women and children are finding themselves in," Save the Children's Syria country director Sonia Khush said in a statement.

She said those who fled the fighting, who are mainly women and children, are enduring "sub-zero temperatures, no roof over their heads and no warm clothes".

"Even when they do manage to find a tent, a heater and a mattress, they risk being asphyxiated by their heating equipment or seeing their shelter burn down."

More than a quarter of Idlib's population has been displaced.
Source: Save the Children

UNICEF issued a similar warning on Wednesday.

"The situation in the northwest is untenable, even by Syria's grim standards," said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.

"Children and families are caught between the violence, the biting cold, the lack of food and the desperate living conditions," she said.

"Such abject disregard for the safety and wellbeing of children and families is beyond the pale and must not go on.

"It is time for the guns to go silent and for the violence to stop once and for all."

It is time for the guns to go silent

Henrietta Fore

The wave of displacement is the biggest in nearly nine years of civil war, which has forced half of Syria's population to flee their homes.

Syrian troops and allied forces backed by Russia have stepped up their offensive against jihadists and their rebel allies in Idlib and the neighbouring province of Aleppo.

With freezing conditions hitting much of Syria, there are also concerns for Australian children in the the al-Hawl camp, where family members of slain IS fighters are living. 

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported that one Australian child is apparently suffering frostbite and another had the tip of his finger chopped off in an accident.

The Morrison government has maintained it has no plans to recuse these Australians due to conditions on the ground and the security risk they may pose back home.

Additional reporting: AFP

Published 19 February 2020 at 9:01pm
By Nick Baker