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Photo essay: Satellite imagery reveals the scale of destruction and displacement in Idlib

One-third of all buildings in the analyzed areas of southern Idlib had been destroyed, while the two displacement camps examined grew by 100 and 177 percent since 2017

9 March 2020

AMMAN — The ceasefire reached on March 5 between Turkey and Russia to end hostilities in Idlib province had little impact on the 16 civilians killed by Russian planes on the outskirts of Maarat Misrin in the northwestern province earlier on the same day. 

The text of the ceasefire agreement—notably printed in Turkish, Russian and English but not Arabic—also held little relevance for the more than a million Syrians who were displaced by the Syrian government-led offensive on northwest Syria since November 2019.

A new satellite imagery project announced by Save the Children, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and World Vision, shows the immense growth in the camps that shelter these Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) and the scale of the destruction in the areas they fled from between 2017 and 2020. 

About one-third of all buildings in the analyzed areas of southern Idlib had been destroyed, while the two displacement camps examined grew by 100 and 177 percent since 2017, according to the study.

“When we started discussing the idea months ago, we knew how dire and inhumane living conditions were in Idlib, but we did not expect the displacement we’ve been witnessing since December and we were shocked by the scale of the destruction in Southern Idlib,” Joelle Bassoul, the regional media manager for the Middle East Regional Office of Save the Children, told Syria Direct.

“Many of these camps are informal and were set up on agricultural land, as we can see in the satellite images,” Bassoul said. “The speed at which some of them have been built or expanded has not allowed the development of health or education infrastructure.” 

Even worse, with the most recent wave of displacement starting in December 2019 overwhelming what little infrastructure and housing is available, there are thousands of IDPs who are living out in the open, something satellite imagery is unable to capture.

Further, the scale of destruction cataloged by the satellite imagery points to the fact that even if given the chance to return to their homes tomorrow, most IDPs would not have a home to return to. 

With their hometowns covered in rubble and the Turkey-Russia ceasefire formalizing the Syrian government’s control over much of the area captured since April 2019, IDPs have long since resigned themselves to the fact that it could be years before they leave the camps pushed up against the Turkish border.

Accordingly, satellite imagery reveals that IDPs have begun to build more permanent, though basic structures, made out of cement, formalizing camps that started as gatherings of people living out of cars and canvas tents.

“Over the years, people try to improve their shelter by building more solid walls to keep them from the cold and weather elements,” Bassoul said. “These structures in the images we examined mean that people have been in the camp for a while, and – based on the destruction in their towns – they know that going back will not be possible in the short term.” 


This article reflects minor changes made on 10/3/2020 at 1:54 pm. 

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