Almost 700,000 Syrians have been forced (pdf) from their homes in northwest Syria since Dec. 1. That’s the highest level of displacement since the country’s civil war broke out nine years ago.
The latest surge in displaced persons came after the Syrian regime and its allies began a full-scale ground and air offensive against rebels in northwestern Idlib province, the last remaining opposition area and which is outside the control of president Bashar al-Assad. The offensive could still displace another 280,000 people, the UN warned. Freezing temperatures also risk making the humanitarian crisis in Idlib even worse.
Idlib “has the world’s largest concentration of displaced people and urgently needs a cessation of hostilities so as not to turn it into a graveyard,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
This latest push by Syrian forces has also further strained relations between the Syrian regime and Turkey. This month, shelling by the Syrian army left 12 Turkish troops and one contractor dead in Idlib province. Turkish retaliation reportedly killed dozens of Syrian soldiers, raising fears of a wider conflict between the two. Turkey, which hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees, backs the rebels.
The Syrian civil war is responsible for the world’s worst refugee crisis in the post-World War II era. Since 2011, more than 5 million Syrians have registered with the United Nations as refugees, the vast majority of them living in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.