A heavy snow-storm has hit north-west Syria, adding to the misery for thousands of families who have recently fled East Aleppo and for civilians who remain trapped.
An estimated 26,000 people have arrived in rural Aleppo and Idlib over the last few days, often with little more than the clothes on their backs, and many are now sleeping in unheated buildings or tents as temperatures drop below freezing. The thousands of young children and babies among them are extremely vulnerable, particularly as many children are weakened and malnourished after months under siege without proper food. Aid workers report that children have been separated from their parents in the chaos as they run to get food when they get off the buses.
Fears are rising for the people still trapped in East Aleppo as the weather worsens. Families have reportedly been staying in the streets or in bombed out buildings while they wait for evacuation with no fuel, medical care or food. Negotiations are ongoing to complete the evacuation from both East Aleppo and the besieged Idlib villages of Fuaa and Kefraya, but it appears snow may be impacting their movement.
The snow storm is also hampering the relief effort in Idlib – Save the Children partners say ambulances carrying patients who have been waiting for days for treatment are getting stuck on the roads. One 5 month-old girl arrived at a hospital supported by Syria Relief this morning with two broken legs, a broken arm and an open wound in her stomach – she had been waiting ten days for treatment after being trapped under siege in East Aleppo. Her parents had been killed and her two injured siblings were taken to another hospital.
Nick Finney, Save the Children’s North-West Syria Country Director, said: “Our partners are working around the clock in sub-zero temperatures doing a heroic job to help families who are arriving from East Aleppo. The needs are huge – thousands of children have arrived in the last few days hungry, cold and terrified after months under siege and bombing. They need food, a place to stay, medical treatment and in the longer term help to return to school and to recover from their experiences.
“We shouldn’t be celebrating what’s happened here as a success. These families have been forced from their homes after unimaginable suffering and are now staying in tents and abandoned buildings in a snow storm, in an area which was already overwhelmed with displaced people. We need support from the international community to help these children survive the winter and recover, but we also need to ensure this tragedy never happens again. We are already hearing reports that a further 1,500 people are going to be forcibly displaced from the besieged town of Madaya and sent to Idlib.”
Aid workers on the ground in Idlib and rural Aleppo say snow is making it very difficult for ambulances or relief trucks to get through, but that vulnerable families urgently need help.
Dr Mounir Hakimi, chairman of Syria Relief, said: “In the last 3 days, we have received 30 severely injured children at a hospital we are supporting. Many of the cases we’re seeing are of infections from wounds which couldn’t be treated properly under siege, so often we’re having to amputate limbs that can’t be saved. At the reception points, people coming off the buses were starving and exhausted - I never thought people would be so desperate just to eat a biscuit. We need more blankets and food supplies, but the snow is also going to make our work very difficult in the coming days.”
Muslem Essa, an aid worker with local charity Violet in Idlib, said: “At the meeting point where buses come in from Aleppo, children were in total shock as they saw the fruits and cooked meals being distributed. Many ran off the buses leaving their parents behind to take an apple or a banana. This has caused children to be separated from their families in the chaos, but some of them hadn’t seen a piece of fruit in five or six months maybe and malnutrition was clear on all their faces, even adults. The children had gone hungry for days waiting for evacuation and they were exhausted, sick and obviously traumatized, their faces and hands were totally black, covered with coal dust as for the last week they were burning furniture or anything they could find for heating.”
Save the Children is urging international UN monitors to enter East Aleppo within the next 24 hours and oversee the evacuation of the remaining civilians, ensuring that the most vulnerable and hardest to reach – the sick, elderly and children – are able to leave. We are also calling for an end to siege tactics across Syria. As we come to the close of 2016, nearly 750,000 people are still living under siege in Syria, facing a winter without sufficient food, fuel or medical care.
Save the Children is providing food baskets, cash grants, blankets and emergency kits to thousands of newly displaced families from East Aleppo. We have also sent extra supplies to health facilities and schools to meet the increased demand.
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