Thousands of displaced Syrians have started moving back to their homes in war-torn Idlib regardless of the risk of renewed battle, some driven by fear that the novel coronavirus could wreak havoc on crowded camps near the Turkish frontier.
About one million Syrians fled Idlib and its surrounding countryside in northwest Syria last year after Russian-backed authorities forces stepped up operations to retake the last rebel stronghold after nine years of war.
Battlehas calmed since March when Ankara, which backs some teams against President Bashar al-Assad, agreed on a ceasefire with Moscow, which has supported Damascus with a massive air force.
Syria’s northwest doesn’t yet have a confirmed case of coronavirus; however, doctors fear the world’s ravaged medical infrastructure and overflowing camps would shortly turn any pandemic into a humanitarian catastrophe.
As the tentative peace holds, displaced Syrians weigh up grim choices: stay in tightly packed camps with few services where a viral spread might be deadly, or return to homes nonetheless vulnerable to getting caught in resumed bloodshed.
Vans and trucks stacked with mattresses and household appliances choked a highway snaking south through Idlib Sunday as families pushed out just months earlier by airstrikes sought to return.
The Syrian Response Coordination Group, a northwest Syria aid agency, stated 103,459 Syrians had returned to cities in the Aleppo and Idlib countryside since the ceasefire.