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Syria: For Those Who Fled East Aleppo, the Suffering Continues

Aleppo Response by ECHO
A distribution of much-needed humanitarian aid in east Aleppo. © People in Need.

The battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo city began in July 2012. Since then, the strategically important city had been divided between east and west: opposition and Government control. In December 2016, after four and a half years of intense fighting, the Syrian Government recaptured the eastern neighbourhoods of the city, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. In April 2016, pro-Government forces began encircling Aleppo’s eastern neighbourhood. Those from the east who had the means to flee did. The rest remained, either out of principle or out of poverty. By July the city was surrounded.

Eleanor McClelland

By Eleanor McClelland, People in Need (PIN) regional communications and advocacy Officer for Turkey, Syria and Iraq @people_in_need

Between July and December, with the exception of approximately a fortnight in August, the eastern neighbourhood was under siege. Bombs and mortars pummelled the area as food and fuel stocks ran lower and lower. Towards the end of these dark months, most of the population was surviving on one meal a day and burned furniture and plastic to stay warm. Fighters in the east launched shells against the western neighbourhoods and pro-Government forces bombed the east from the sky. Civilians caught on both sides paid the highest price.

Throughout the siege, humanitarian organisations including People in Need and EU Humanitarian Aid called for an end to the bombing and for aid to be allowed into the city. Negotiations for aid access continued for months to no avail. Despite the exceptional and sustained suffering of the population in east Aleppo, negotiations and ceasefires failed and stalled as the world watched the humanitarian crisis worsen.

In late November into early December, pro-Government forces rapidly recaptured territory from the opposition and closed in on the remaining eastern neighbourhoods. As the population of east Aleppo awaited an unknown fate, sending goodbyes via social media to family, friends and the world, the news of a plan to evacuate civilians and fighters from east Aleppo was announced on December 13th. Two days later the injured and those in need of medical attention were evacuated.

Over the course of the following week, more than 36 000 people were evacuated from eastern Aleppo to other opposition-controlled areas. Over 80 000 additional people were displaced into Government-controlled areas in and around Aleppo.

Those evacuated to opposition-controlled areas travelled to multiple locations in the countryside of western Aleppo and Idlib. People in Need soon mobilised, alongside other aid organisations, the distribution of food and household items such as blankets, sleeping mats and jerry cans for transporting and storing water. People in Need then followed up with vouchers for food or cash grants, giving displaced families a greater choice in what to buy according to their needs.

For the fortunate ones, friends and families were able to host them. For the rest, the only option was to start life over again from scratch.

The deterioration of the financial situation in east Aleppo during the siege left the vast majority with nothing. The importance of cash assistance is therefore paramount as it enables families and individuals to purchase items according to their own greatest needs. Whether they need money for medicine, rent, household items or food, the choice is theirs.

Omar, a young man who was evacuated to Idlib with only the clothes on his back, found himself alone in a new city. Though he quickly secured a place to live, he had no income and was unsure about the future.

“I was born in Aleppo and I lived there all my life,” he says. “If it had been up to me, I would have never left Aleppo but we had no other choice. The humanitarian situation has been terrible for months and the last few weeks of the siege were the worst.”

Omar soon received 120 US$ from People in Need. With the support from EU Humanitarian Aid, nearly 2900 unconditional cash grants like these have been given to people displaced from east Aleppo.

“This will help me a lot,” says Omar. “It will help me pay my rent and buy some items I need. The cost of life here is very high and this grant will assist me for weeks.”

People in Need continues to provide support for the most vulnerable displaced from east Aleppo, as well as to the communities hosting them. To date, the organisation has supported more than 4000 families and individuals in over 40 villages.

“Of the many humanitarian crises Syria has witnessed, the situation in Aleppo and the forced evacuation of its people might be the most horrific,” says Sari Haj Jneid, a communications officer for People in Need. “The victims are civilians; children, women and elderly persons who were in need of urgent treatment and medical care. Their suffering did not stop when they left Aleppo, these people have lost everything.”

This response has been made possible thanks to the generous funding and support from European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), ACTED and World Food Programme.

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