Published on 28th September, Handicap International’s report ‘Qasef: Escaping the bombing’ identifies the mass use of explosive weapons in populated areas as an overriding factor in the displacement of Syrian population. Indiscriminate bombing and shelling have created one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Second World War.
More than 10.9 million Syrians – over half of the country’s population - have had to flee their home, with 6.1 million being internally displaced and 4.8 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
As highlighted in the report, Syrians primarily flee to avoid violent attacks involving explosive weapons. “It was continuous shelling every day. The children were extremely frightened by the sound of bombs” explain Ahmad and Hamida who fled Homs when their house was destroyed by mortar shelling.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the main cause of civilian deaths, rising from 48% of civilian casualties in 2012 to 83% in the first half of 2016. The vast majority of attacks are indiscriminate and some deliberately target civilians. People surviving also face major trauma with potential long-term impact on their lives, with 47% of people injured by explosive weapons having complex fractures and 15% undergoing amputations. But medical care is severely disrupted by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Many of those interviewed have had to leave Syria to seek adequate treatment for their conditions.
The bombing destroys key infrastructure such as homes, hospitals, schools, water and electricity networks etc. as well as social and economic life.
But the report also highlights more shocking, less well-known impact on civilians. According to testimonies gathered by Handicap International in the report, Syrians are subject to multiple displacements and can be displaced up to 25 times by successive attacks before finding a safe refuge. Repeated displacement causes extreme poverty due to loss of livelihood and food insecurity. “Each time we tried to return to the house, but we could not stay because of the bombing. […] We had to move to other cities where armed forces had agreed not to attack. But the agreement was always broken and we had to move again. There is no safe place in Syria” says Ahmed, who found refuge in Jordan after suffering from a brain injury due to shelling.
The lack of hospital and medical personnel doesn’t just impact injured people but can have long-term impact on the lives of new-born babies. As the only midwife fled her village, Aisha had to give birth alone, hiding for 12 hours in a basement with her newborn during a bombing. “I bled for 20 days and my baby was also in critical condition.” The complicated birth and lack of medical help means that Aisha’s baby now faces long-term development problems.
Explosive weapons also have long-term impact on mental health. “One of my relatives wakes up every day and grabs her children, one on each side and stares at the sky all day, scared that a bomb will drop on them. She doesn’t eat or drink” explains Kareem whose own kids have suffered. “Our kids have seen blood, explosions, and fear for the first time. Every time they would hear an explosion, they would run to us for protection. We did not know how to protect them” he adds.
Handicap International is appealing to the parties of the conflict to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It is also calling on the international community to strongly condemn this practice and to take action to bring it to an end.
“The large-scale use of explosive weapons in populated areas during the Syrian conflict has given rise to the worst humanitarian crisis in decades,” says Aleema Shivji, Director of Handicap International UK. “Combined with the absence of appropriate medical care and psychological support in Syria, this practice has had a devastating effect on people’s lives. With more than 1.5 million casualties in Syria, an entire generation is going to suffer the consequences for many years to come.”
Handicap International's report, ‘Qasef: Escaping the bombing’ is available to download here (pdf, 4.13 MB).
Pictures are available upon request. Aleema Shivji, Director of Handicap International UK, is available for interviews.
Marlene Sigonney, Handicap International UK
Tel: +44 (0)870 774 3737
The 'Stop bombing civilians!' campaign
In September 2015, Handicap International launched an international campaign calling on states to sign a political declaration to bring an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to recognise the suffering of civilians. Handicap International also co-founded INEW (International Network on Explosive Weapons), a coalition of national and international organisations, and is inviting everyone to support the campaign by signing the Stop bombing civilians! petition at www.stop-bombing-civilians.org
Report methodology: Qasef: Escaping the bombing is based on:
- interviews having taken place in July 2016 with Syrian refugees in Jordan, from Aleppo, Damascus and the surrounding region, Deraa and Homs;
- a review of existing literature on the issue;
- interviews with other international organisations.
Handicap International and the Syrian crisis: since 2012, over 600,000 people have benefited from our work. We provide rehabilitation services and psychological support, and distribute emergency aid to meet the basic needs of injured, disabled and vulnerable people. Handicap International also works on raising the awareness of local populations to prevent accidents caused by explosive weapons.