Thousands of women and children have been killed in Idlib - so why don't the British public know about it?

People who only see the conflict on the news can be forgiven for mistaking the soaring civilian death tolls as collateral damage. But this is not the case. Civilians are the target. These are no accidents

Othman Moqbel
Thursday 20 February 2020 11:16 GMT
Syrian civilians flee Idlib offensive

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The ignorance of the British public towards the escalating human catastrophe in Idlib is heart-breaking. According to a YouGov poll commissioned by Syria Relief, 72 per cent of the British public are not aware of the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, and 70 per cent don’t even know where Idlib is.

We, at Syria Relief, have been working in the country since the start of the conflict in 2011. The nine years of fighting has seen many tragedies, but the one that is currently happening in Idlib is the worse yet. As we saw with the sieges of Aleppo, Homs, Eastern Ghouta, and other regions throughout Syria, buses packed with civilians left in fear of their lives. Many were relocated to Idlib, as they thought it was safe there. Now it isn’t. Now they are trapped and the unfolding horror is coming for them. The tragedy of Idlib is further compounded by the fact that nearly three quarters of the British public do not even know it’s happening.

Thousands have been killed and the victims have been disproportionately women and children. The number of people who have fled their homes in terror since 1 December, 2019, is 900,000 and counting. Many of these people have been displaced multiple times. In the space of seven months, six of the schools Syria Relief operates and four of the healthcare facilities we have operated have been destroyed by airstrikes. With each passing day the desperate need for food, shelter, water and healthcare grows and grows. Yet the cries of the people in Idlib are falling on deaf ears.

I think people who only see the conflict on the news can be forgiven for mistaking the soaring civilian death tolls as collateral damage – people whose lives have been taken by accident. In reality, it has become increasingly clear that this is not the case. Civilians are the target. They are being murdered. These are no accidents.

It is, of course, against international humanitarian law and international human rights law for the military actors in this conflict to target civilians, but global apathy means there are little consequences.

On 1 January, at 11.45am, a school we operated in Sarmin was hit by a cluster bomb – 12 people were killed, five of which were children. The youngest victims were just six years old. There was nothing that could be misconstrued for a military target nearby. This was an attack on children and teachers.

On Tuesday, my colleague Ibrahim Saddo, a healthcare worker, was killed by an airstrike in Marat al-Nasan. He was on his way to salvage materials from the Syria Relief Primary Healthcare Centre which itself had been destroyed by an airstrike last week.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

While the Idlib crisis has been ongoing, I have seen the British public get worked up about vegan meals at Greggs and Burger King, Megxit, and Tracy Brabin’s shoulder in parliament – yet virtually no one seems to be angry that innocent people are being deliberately killed, on a daily basis, in Idlib.

We wouldn’t stand for hospitals, schools and civilians being bombed in the UK, so why are we standing for it in Idlib? Only pressure from governments will force the military actors in this conflict to stop the targeting of innocent people. Idlib needs you to write to your MP. Idlib needs you to talk about the crisis on social media. Idlib needs your anger, because now, to be silent is to be complicit.

Othman Moqbel is the chief executive of Syria Relief, the largest Syria-focused charity in the UK

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in