What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Assad’s Idlib offensive drives nearly 1 million from their homes — and into the cold

In Syria, only one pocket of resistance to the Assad regime remains, in Idlib province. But since late last year, Assad’s military has been relentlessly attacking the region, and now, nearly a million people have been forced from their homes in the freezing cold. In a war defined by displacement, this is the largest movement of people in the entire years-long conflict. Nick Schifrin reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Only one pocket of resistance to the ruling Assad regime remains in Syria. And since late last year, Bashar al-Assad's military, backed by Russia, has been pounding Idlib province relentlessly.

    Now, nearly one million people are on the move in the freezing cold and out in the open.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, in a war defined by displacement, this is the largest movement of people of the entire war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    They flee by the hundreds of thousands, 900,000 in just the last two months.

    But now, after nine years of war, there is nowhere left to run. They arrive by the truckload at camps in open fields. Others flee to tents set up next to abandoned buildings by international humanitarian groups.

    This is their final refuge, pushed north by Syrian and Russian forces against the Turkish border. But the border is closed, and the internally displaced are trapped.

  • Mohammed Yassin (through translator):

    This is our 10th displacement. Now we are getting ready to leave, but to go where? We don't know. We couldn't find a house. So now we are just taking our stuff to the countryside. Maybe we will just sit under an olive tree.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Some have found temporary homes by olive trees. But the tents are thin, and the winter is harsh. And, here, the only way to stay warm are flimsy sweaters, and the only fuel for the fire are shrubs.

  • Hooriya al-Essa (through translator):

    We fled from the air strikes, and we came here. And now we are dealing with the snow. We have no heaters, blankets, or mattresses, no firewood. We don't have bread. This entire camp is poor. We have nothing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Last April, the Syrian regime and Russian military launched a major campaign to recapture Idlib province, Syria's last opposition stronghold.

    In December, the regime intensified its assault to recapture the M5 Highway, the country's most important commercial route. Turkish forces are in Idlib resisting the regime. And Turkey has pushed Russia diplomatically.

    But those Turkish troops are preventing civilians from crossing the border. And, yesterday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad predicted victory over Turkey and all the regime's enemies.

  • President Bashar al-Assad (through translator):

    The battle to liberate the Idlib and Aleppo countryside is ongoing, regardless of some of the empty bubbles of sound coming from the north, as well as the battle for liberating all Syrian soil, crushing terrorism, and achieving stability.

  • Fouad Sayyed:

    They lost their homes, their equipment, and everything that they have.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Fouad Sayyed is the founder of Violet, a local organization trying to provide relief to displaced Syrians. He says the airstrikes are closing in.

  • Fouad Sayyed:

    They are so afraid from the everyday attacks or what will happen for them if the Syrian regime came to this area.

  • Saleh Hawa:

    They have been destroying hospitals while the sick people are inside them. If he doesn't detain all the people, I think that he will kill everybody.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Saleh Hawa is an English teacher. His story is the story of the Syrian war. Back in 2012, he was a hopeful local council leader who helped lead an anti-Assad protest that pushed the regime from his hometown.

  • Saleh Hawa:

    We are looking forward to a better future.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But then his town, Haritan, was bombed by Russian and Syrian jets. When we spoke again in 2016, gone were Saleh's hometown and hope.

  • Saleh Hawa:

    Most of the population of Haritan left the town because there was no single house which is safe right now. We were let down. America let us down.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    His hope returned briefly in 2018, when Turkish troops entered Idlib.

  • Saleh Hawa:

    The Syrian people see that the only savior for them is Turkey. Maybe, a few years ago, they hoped that America would do that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today those Turkish troops are still there, but Saleh says they cannot save the people of Idlib.

  • Saleh Hawa:

    Does the international community accept that all these people are killed just because they wanted their freedom, their dignity, their equality?

    I'm calling for President, Mr. Donald Trump, please do something. Please, I beg you. Now more than one million people are going to be exterminated.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. supports Turkey's military presence in Idlib, and has called Russia's involvement unacceptable.

    But, last week, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien ruled out any intervention.

  • Robert O’Brien:

    The idea that America must do something, I just find that to be — I don't even see that as being a real argument.

    What are we supposed to do to stop that? We're supposed to parachute in as a global policeman and hold up a stop sign and say, stop this, Turkey, stop this, Russia?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So all that Syrians like Abdullah Mohammad can do is to try to protect their children. He teaches his daughter that, when she hears airstrikes…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … she's supposed to laugh. He's lied to her that they're only toy planes. But the planes aren't toys, and the airstrikes are inching closer.

  • Saleh Hawa:

    The Syrian people being killed, being bombarded, every single day, their schools, their houses, their hospitals. The infrastructure is completely destroyed, and nobody is doing anything.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest