'We have no access' to Syria's Idlib to help earthquake victims, ICRC says

Top humanitarian official told The National that aid must reach thousands in need following disastrous quake

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Tuesday for Syria’s warring sides to allow aid groups into rebel-held Idlib to assist victims of the earthquake that has killed more than 6,000 people in Syria and Turkey.

The severity of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the region on Monday has killed at least 1,932 in Syria, injuring thousands, following a number of deadly aftershocks.

Neighbouring Turkey has declared a state of emergency and the WHO said 23 million people could be affected.

“I'll be transparent, you know, we have no access to northern Syria, we're not present in Idlib and other areas. We don't have access for political reasons and it’s not that we have no access for humanitarian reasons,” Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC's Near and Middle East regional director, told The National.

Syria’s north-western province of Idlib was among the areas worst hit by the earthquake. Idlib is the country’s last rebel-held enclave, which remains outside of the government’s control, with millions of refugees resettling in the area.

“What we ask now, considering the size of this disaster, is just to remove those political constraints to give us access, for instance, to Idlib,” he said.

Despite reports on Wednesday that border crossings from Turkey into north-west Syria had reopened following negotiations between Turkish authorities and members of the Syrian opposition, the ICRC said they still didn't have access but were trying to negotiate entry.

Syria’s various stakeholders are the ones who have not given the ICRC access in the region, this includes state and non-state groups, Mr Carboni said.

“The thing is, and I think the actors know what they are doing, all the stakeholders in this issue, they know what they are doing, what they should do, and what could be possible,” he said.

Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011 after a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters led to an armed rebellion, has largely ended, although Al Qaeda linked militants still control Idlib, an area overcrowded with millions of displaced Syrians.

Years of war have hit the economy, pushing 90 per cent of the population below the poverty line, and unemployment to as high as 50 per cent. It has depilated an already crippled health infrastructure, nearly 50 per cent of the country’s hospitals and clinics have been destroyed by the war.

People in the region have had little access to medical care and essential supplies that has created life-threatening situations that have already led to preventable deaths.

On top they have been faced with a natural disaster such as the deadly quake that has killed over 2,000 in Syria alone.

“To be honest, I am speechless, in front of this disaster, " he said.

Syria earthquake survivor tells his story

Syria earthquake survivor tells his story

The top ICRC official said he hopes the region can isolate “humanitarian action from politics” in what he called a “reset”.

The region must agree “that there is one thing which should not be affected by the current political environment and that is humanitarian action.”

The powerful earthquake has taken place in an area which has already been hit hard by conflict, natural disasters, an epidemic, and climate crisis.

"So we need, solidarity, beyond borders, solidarity beyond frontlines," he said.

Response on the ground

The first night for those impacted by the earthquake was traumatising, Adnan Hezam, ICRC's spokesperson in Syria, told The National.

"They don't know what happened, it was a shock and many had lost their loved ones. They were all very emotional," Mr Hezam said.

The ICRC along with their partners the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been attempting to find missing people, buried under the rubble and to provide urgent relief assistance.

"This disaster has added further burden on the Syrian people who have suffering from decades of conflict which has impacted all aspects of their lives," he said.

"The quake has made the situation more catastrophic," he said.

We are calling for more international attention as there are millions who are in need of help, he said.

Updated: February 08, 2023, 12:21 PM