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170,000 people living in the open in northwest Syria — UN

By AFP - Feb 20,2020 - Last updated at Feb 20,2020

A displaced Syrian girl rides in the back of a truck on the way to Deir Al Ballut camp in Afrin's countryside along the border with Turkey, on Wednesday, after fleeing government offensive on the last major rebel bastion in the country's northwest (AFP photo)

BEIRUT — An estimated 170,000 of the 900,000 civilians forced from their homes in a massive wave of displacement in northwestern Syria are living out in the open, the UN said Thursday.

The largest displacement since the war in Syria broke out nearly nine years ago comes in the thick of winter, with temperatures often dipping below zero Celsius and snow covering some districts.

"Harsh winter conditions further aggravate the suffering of these vulnerable people who fled their homes to escape the violence, most of whom have been displaced multiple times over nine years of conflict," the United Nations said.

In its latest update, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said around a fifth of those newly displaced were sleeping rough.

"Almost 170,000 of those newly displaced people are estimated to be living in the open or in unfinished buildings," it said.

The UN said that the camps sheltering some of the rest were overstretched and that many families were pitching tents on plots with no access to basic services such as latrines.

The UN's top humanitarian coordinator Mark Lowcock had warned earlier this week that a ceasefire was needed to avert a humanitarian disaster on a scale yet unseen in the Syria war.

The UN has called on Turkey to take in more refugees, arguing that the emergency is extreme.

Turkey, which already hosts the world's largest number of Syrian refugees with around 3.6 million people, wants to avoid another mass influx.

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