Babies and young children dying in cold in Syria, warns UN humanitarian chief

  • This report contains images some readers may find distressing

Babies and young children who have fled the Russian-backed Syrian offensive are dying from the cold as they attempt to escape death in a war zone, the UN's humanitarian chief has warned.

Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing Idlib - the last major rebel stronghold in Syria - as President Bashar Assad's forces attack the rebels in a bid to regain complete control of the country.

But as the forces advance, those who have fled their homes are being squeezed into ever smaller areas near Turkey’s border "under horrendous conditions".

  • Earlier this month ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy reported on the situation in Idlib as people flee their homes. The video contains images some readers may find distressing:

Sir Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council that "the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe" in north west Idlib province has "overwhelmed" efforts to provide aid.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said nearly 900,000 people have been displaced since December 1 when the government offensive began - more than half a million of them are children.

Figures from UNICEF suggest 77 children have been killed or injured in the Idlib region since the start of 2020 alone.

Save the Children estimates at least 290,000 children have been displaced from their homes by the violence.

Mr Lowcock told the UN Security Council: "Many are on foot or on the backs of trucks in below-freezing temperatures, in the rain and snow.

"They are moving into increasingly crowded areas they think will be safer.

"But in Idlib, nowhere is safe."

Mr Lowcock said almost 50,000 people have taken shelter under trees and in open spaces adding: "I am getting daily reports of babies and other young children dying in the cold."

  • Earlier this week, Sir Mark told ITV News 'the carnage needs to stop:

UN special envoy Geir Pedersen echoed secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s alarm at the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation "and the tragic suffering of civilians".

“Hostilities are now approaching densely populated areas such as Idlib city and Bab al-Hawa border crossing, which has among the highest concentration of displaced civilians in north west Syria and also serves as a humanitarian lifeline,” he said.

Mr Pedersen warned: “The potential for further mass displacement and even more catastrophic human suffering is apparent, as an increasing number of people are hemmed into an ever-shrinking space.”

Syrian rebels outside of Idlib. Credit: AP

He said Russia and Turkey, as sponsors of a ceasefire in Idlib, "can and must play a key role in finding a way to de-escalate the situation now".

Meetings between delegations of the two countries in Ankara, Munich and Moscow in recent days as well as contacts between the two presidents, have not produced results.

"To the contrary, public statements from different quarters, Syrian and international, suggest an imminent danger of further escalation," Mr Pedersen said.

According to the latest figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 380,000 people have died in Syrian territories since the revolution began in 2011.

Of this figure, nearly 22,000 are thought to be children under the age of 18.