The frontline of the seven-year-old conflict in Syria is now Eastern Ghouta, where violence has forced some 130,000 people to flee. OCHA caught up with a family who fled to Adra collective shelter in Rural Damascus in search of safety in late March.
Eleven members of a family (who we cannot name) have been at Adra camp for two days. Jouri, is the youngest member of the family at nine months old. Her grandfather holds her while her mother looks on from inside a makeshift tent. “Everything that we have is in here,” he told us, as he pulled up a piece of plastic sheeting and revealed a few neatly stacked tins of food and some bottles of water.
Jourí’s family is from the Hazzeh area in in Eastern Ghouta. Their fellow camp residents come from all over Eastern Ghouta: Hamouriyeh, Arbin, Sabqa, Outaya, Shefeniyeh, Kafra Batna and Beit Sawa. Many families from the Hazzeh area have left, but some remain in Hazzeh, said Jouri’s grandfather. Many families were separated as they tried to flee and some told him they were shot at as they were leaving. He has lost touch with one his cousins.
Since arriving at the shelter, the family brought Jouri to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) mobile clinic where volunteers gave her some medicine for her cough, but she had yet to be vaccinated. The family received some food and water, but they still need blankets as it gets cold at night, said Jouri’s grandfather. Years ago, he owned a pottery factory in eastern Ghouta, which was destroyed during the conflict.
During the recent fighting, the family was forced to live underground for weeks before they were evacuated.
Some 44,000 evacuees from Eastern Ghouta are currently being hosted in collective shelters in Rural Damascus as of 3 April. Most of the shelters do not have the capacity or infrastructure to accommodate the large number of arrivals. Adra, where Nouri’s family is staying, was among the most crowded with an estimated 8,600 staying in ill-equipped school buildings and a defunct electricity complex at the time of their arrival. The buildings were extremely overcrowded and lack adequate water, sanitation or hygiene facilities.
Though SARC is leading the humanitarian response, the UN, together with its partners, has mobilized a rapid response, with non-food items, food, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, health, nutrition and protection assistance. While food, and plastic sheeting and some non-food items have been distributed by UN agencies, much more is needed, including better site management, which is a priority.
People arriving at the collective shelters have endured years of besiegement with limited access to humanitarian aid. Internally displaced people said that they had been living in basements for weeks before arriving in overcrowded shelters and are in urgent need of aid especially protection services.
In addition to humanitarian assistance, the UN is responding with protection and legal services specially to prevent gender-based violence and provide special care for separated and unaccompanied children. There is an urgent need to expedite security screening procedures for displaced people and to prioritize vulnerable cases.
As of 3 April, less than half of the 83,000 people from Eastern Ghouta evacuated to Rural Damascus have left the collective shelters. The UN and partners require nearly US$74 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ghouta as existing funds are close to exhausted. Increased donor support is urgently needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
Since March 2018, hostilities and military operations in Eastern Ghouta have led to a continued influx of internally displaced people to Rural Damascus and northern Syria; and has severely impacted the protection and well-being of civilians inside the enclave. An estimated 1,600 civilians have been killed and thousands more injured since mid-February.