United Nations monitors reported on Monday that more than 920,000 Syrians were displaced during the first four months of 2018, the highest number recorded since the conflict began seven years ago.
“We are seeing a massive displacement inside Syria. From January to April, there were over 920,000 newly displaced people,” Panos Moumtzis, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, told reporters in Geneva. “This was the highest displacement in that short period of time we have seen since the conflict started,” he added.
Moumtzis said the newly displaced were Syrians who were forced to leave the formerly rebel-controlled area of Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb which was retaken by regime forces in April after two months of intense fighting.
The displaced also included those who fled the northwestern area of Idlib to other parts of the province due to an increase of fighting in recent days, which has caused dozens of civilian casualties.
Many people were forcibly evacuated to Idlib from other areas of the war-ravaged country including Eastern Ghouta most recently and previously from Aleppo.
The conflict in Syria began after mass protests in March 2011 erupted into a civil war between pro-Syrian regime forces and rebel factions. The rise of ISIS across Iraq and Syria in 2014 further complicated the situation and regional and global powers were drawn into the conflict. Turkey has been a main backer of opposition groups trying to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, while Russia and Iran have been among his main allies.
The UN reported that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) now stands at 6.2 million, while the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries has reached 5.6 million, causing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. The death toll in Syria’s conflict, now in its eighth year, has reached almost 511,000, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday.
According to the Observatory, at least 85 percent of the casualties are civilians, killed by the Syrian regime and its allies.
Turkey, Iran and Russia teamed up to help mediate a peace settlement to end the conflict but have been unsuccessful so far. As for the people of Idlib, Moumtzis is concerned the entire province could once again become displaced. Idlib is home to some 2.5 million people, including rebels and civilians. It is a named “de-escalation” zone in the unsuccessful peace process.
“Our worry is that with the Idlib situation, we may not have seen the worst of the crisis in Syria,” Moumtzis said, adding “there is no other location to further move them.” The UN is currently working on a range of contingency plans in the event the Idlib situation escalates further. “We are on high alert,” Moumtzis added.