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Syria: Protection the main concern in flight from Aleppo

21 Dec 2016

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By early December, tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped in besieged parts of East Aleppo. Some evacuations have taken place, but thousands of people are reportedly waiting for evacuations to resume


Displaced Aleppo residents wait in line to receive food distributed by the World Food Programme. Credit: WFP/Hani Al Homsh

By early December, tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped in besieged parts of East Aleppo. Some evacuations have taken place — ICRC estimates that more than 25,000 people were evacuated from Aleppo between 15 and 20 December — but thousands of people are reportedly waiting for evacuations to resume.

Evacuees are arriving in reception centres in Atareb in Aleppo Governorate and in Sarmada in Idleb Governorate, hungry and in desperate need of shelter. Protection of civilians is the biggest concern, and the UN has called for the safe evacuation of all remaining civilians who choose to leave the city. National and international partners are doing all they can to respond to urgent needs by distributing shelter materials, food, blankets and winter clothes, and by carrying out medical and malnutrition consultations.

On 19 December 2016, the Security Council adopted a resolution requesting the United Nations and other institutions to monitor the evacuations from eastern districts of the war-battered city and demanding all parties to conflict to provide these monitors with safe, immediate access to people in need.

Nour, 30, and her family are among those who were displaced from East Aleppo in the last week since the Syrian Army and Russian military stepped up their offensive to retake the town. Nour left the only home she had ever known in the Salahaddin neighbourhood at 4 a.m. due to the deteriorating security situation and lack of food, which brought her family to the brink of starvation. She has scars on her forearms from shrapnel wounds following a mortar attack on her family’s home.


The displacement site where Nour’s family is taking shelter provides no protection from the cold. Credit: OCHA

Nour and nine of her family members are staying in one of several warehouses in which dozens of men, women and children are sheltering in one open space.“There is no privacy, and I wish there was a separate space just for women,” she said. “My family and I all left together with many others. We were hundreds — maybe even a thousand.”
 
Since her arrival, Nour has received assistance from Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers and onsite medical teams. Another evacuee, who is a mother of five, saw her husband taken away on arrival. “She has not heard any information since then, and she is desperate,” said Nour.
 
Nearby, Mohammed and his family are also seeking shelter, having fled their home in East Aleppo. They walked for hours to seek safety but dispersed after hearing gunshots in their direction. They lost contact with Mohammed’s father during the attack and have not seen him since. Unable to find him, the family had no choice but to board a bus taking them to a large abandoned cotton factory in Jibreen, east of Aleppo, where 3,000 internally displaced persons took shelter at that time.
 
“We were starving in East Aleppo, so we had to leave,” said Mohammed. “We used to be given bags of bread, but then bread stopped and there was just rice. Then there was no rice and the price of food became so expensive and we could not afford it anymore.”
 
Mohammed says their shelter is so cold, it feels like sleeping outside. His family members received winter clothes, blankets, mattresses, water and food, but there are no toilets or showers in the displacement site.

Humanitarian partners are urgently scaling up their operations in displacement sites across the area, prioritizing protection, food, shelter, warm clothes, water and medical help.


Mohammed’s displaced family outside the cotton factory where they are taking shelter. Credit: OCHA