New data from northwestern Syria reveals surge in suicides as needs rise – and UN Security Council to vote on cross-border aid

Ahead of today’s UNSC meeting on Syria and days before the expiration of critical UN cross-border assistance in northwest and northeast Syria, new data from the IRC reveal a devastating increase in suicides in northwestern Syria amid record needs. Cross-border aid is a vital lifeline for Syrians in the northwest, supporting a massive humanitarian response. If the UNSC does not renew its authorization, the suffering will increase exponentially: access to life-saving aid, including health and mental health services, will be diminished, exacerbating the humanitarian catastrophe.

The new data, collected through surveys of community members in northwestern Syria, revealed that:

  • 93% of people think suicides have increased since the start of the Syrian crisis with a clear increase especially after the massive displacement of people from the end of 2019 to the beginning of 2020.
  • 87% had heard of suicides in their community. When asked about why do people commit suicide, 77% of respondents said this was due to severe depression and mental health problems, 67% said it was due to domestic violence— more precisely against women, 63% said it was due to Financial difficulty and / or loss of property, and 53% said it was due to loss of hope given the current crisis and deteriorating conditions. Child marriage has also been identified as one of the main reasons girls in particular commit suicide.
  • One survey respondent, when asked if he knew anyone who had recently committed suicide, said: “A man, the head of a household, committed suicide because he lost his home and his livelihood when he was displaced, and he could not find a job or provide for his family.
  • Another survey respondent, who asked the same question, said: “I know the case of a 16 year old girl with several children and her husband has passed away and no one is supporting her or her children… She is under enormous pressure in life because she cannot meet the needs of her children and other living conditions. [This] led her to suicidal tendencies by cutting her hand with a blade… ”
  • “Many suicides or suicide attempts that I have heard of or worked with were women as a result of domestic violence” said a humanitarian worker.
  • “I know a patient with psychosis who hits his head with force in an attempt to kill himself. He cannot seek treatment because he cannot afford it due to the distance from mental health centers and his inability to pay transport costs ”, said one respondent.
  • The survey also highlighted gaps in access to health services, including mental health services. Several problems accessing services were reported by communities, the three main ones were that medicines are not available, transport difficulties such as household members not being able to afford high transport costs and the cost of medicines. health services.

With 50% of health workers estimated to have left the country in the past decade, and only one psychiatrist per million people in northwestern Syria, the scale of the needs demands an appropriate response. However, despite clearly growing needs and insufficient access to vital services, the Security Council voted last year to restrict access to north-western and north-eastern Syria, which turned out to have an impact on aid flows and access. In the north-west, the removal of the Bab al Salam passage cut off direct access Gateway to northern Aleppo, home to some of the highest concentrations of displaced people. 1.3 million people live in northern Aleppo in the area previously accessible from Bab al-Salam. 800,000 people – 62% of the population of northern Aleppo – are IDPs.

The move leaves just one point of access for life-saving UN aid, reaching millions of people in northwestern Syria. Humanitarian aid delivered by the remaining passage, Bab al Hawa, provides 3.4 million people per month with humanitarian aid, including food for 1.4 million people, health supplies – including vaccines COVID-19 – and also support for essential services, such as protection programs for Syrians who have experienced violence, psychosocial support for those who need this type of assistance, education programs and vocational training – all it relies on an ongoing UN-led cross-border response.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said:

“These new suicide rate figures provide a tragic glimpse into the level of growing need and desperation after 10 years of conflict and economic collapse. It is essential that the international community take urgent action to address this challenge, starting with expanding cross-border access to Syrians in need to ensure scaling up of essential services. Without sufficient alternatives, without a steady and timely flow of aid and services, this crisis will go from downright horrific to truly catastrophic. The UN Security Council shouldn’t play politics with people’s lives – and they have to make the right choice. This week, they are voting on whether to provide aid through crucial cross-border routes. The Syrians turn to the Council. But, the current draft text does not include the re-authorization of a critical passage to the northwest, Bab al Salam. The move leaves only one point of access to vital United Nations aid to reach millions of people in northwestern Syria. A few weeks before its closure, a million health treatments were provided by the passage per month. Its closure in the midst of a pandemic has cut off a reliable source of medical supplies, vaccines and health treatments, and unnecessarily delayed the delivery of vital supplies. It is quite clear that this help is not only necessary, but is an urgent matter of life and death. The Council has the power to expand access to humanitarian aid and services; to give hope to millions of Syrians.

If these essential aid routes are not renewed, more Syrian families will go hungry, health and mental health problems will increase, and the response to COVID-19 and the vaccination campaign will be brought to a halt, resulting in greater unnecessary suffering. In addition, experience shows that children will be taken out of school and forced to work, that cases of child marriage will increase to reduce household expenses, and that the risks of gender-based violence against women and girls will increase. . Residents of northwestern Syria are already facing record economic pressures, extreme poverty, an unprecedented food crisis and have been displaced several times as the conflict enters its eleventh year.

In the northeast, needs have increased more than in any other part of Syria, increasing by 40% since the Council’s decision to remove the vital Al Yarubiyah crossing point. The move cut cross-border access to the northeast for the UN, resulting in shortages of essential drugs and health care supplies previously delivered by the UN via Yarubiyah.

As needs increase, humanitarian aid channels must also increase. The current situation demands increased access through all modalities, including the re-authorization of Bab al Hawa, Bab al Salam and Yarubiyah for cross-border aid.


Notes to Editors:

The IRC conducted 30 key informant interviews, of which 18 were psychological workers, six were relatives / neighbors of people who attempted suicide, and six were community representatives. The smaller sample size is due to subject sensitivity and the loss of an entire protection monitoring team due to the CCDF cuts.

About IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, security, education, economic well-being and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC works in more than 40 countries and more than 20 American cities to help people survive, take back control of their future and strengthen their communities. . Learn more at and follow IRC at Twitter & Facebook.

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