People in Need Assist Thousands of Families Displaced from East Aleppo
The battle for Aleppo city began in July 2012. Since that summer the strategically important city had been divided between east and west: opposition and Government control. This December, 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 the eastern neighbourhoods. As they consolidated their hold, the threat of besiegement steadily grew. Those from the east who had the means to flee did so. The rest remained, either out of principle or out of poverty. In the months that followed, the risk of besiegement soon turned into an inevitability and by July the city was surrounded. Between July and December, save for approximately a fortnight in August, the eastern neighbourhoods were under siege. Throughout the siege, bombs and mortars continued to pummel the area as food and fuel stocks ran lower and lower. Towards the end of these dark months, most of the population was surviving off 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 besiegement, humanitarian organizations called time and again for an end to the bombing and for aid to be allowed into the city. Negotiations for aid access, both with and between parties to the conflict, continued for months but still no aid entered due to a lack of security guarantees or lack of access grants. 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 a fate-unknown, 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 with priority.
Over the course of the following week, between the 15th and 23rd of December, more than 36,000 people, including men, women, children, the disabled and the elderly, were evacuated from eastern Aleppo to other opposition-controlled areas. An additional 80,000+ people were displaced into Government-controlled areas in and around Aleppo city.
Those evacuated to opposition-controlled areas travelled to multiple locations in the countrysides of western Aleppo and Idlib. People in Need soon mobilised, alongside other aid organisations, distributing in-kind aid in the form of food and household items such as blankets, sleeping mats and jerry cans for transporting and storing water. Having met these key emergency needs, People in Need then provided follow-up assistance in the form of vouchers for food or cash grants to give IDP families greater choice in what they purchased in order to meet their specific dietry and other needs.
For the fortunate ones, friends and families were able to host them: for the rest, their only option was to start life over again from scratch.
Omar, a young man evacuated with little save the clothes on his back, describes life in east Aleppo towards the end and what it has been like starting over with nothing. He was evacuated to Idlib, where he knew no one. Though he quickly found somewhere to live, he had no income and was unsure how he would be able to afford living there in the months to come.
“I was born in Aleppo and I had lived there all my life. I left my home forever with the last batch of people evacuated from the city. Actually, if it had been up to me, I would have never left Aleppo but we had no other choice. The humanitarian situation had been terrible for months and the last few weeks of the siege in particular were the worst; there were many airstrikes every day, severe shortages of food items and medicines and prices were so high. Now, I am living in the northern countryside of Idlib and I am jobless. What is worse is that I have rented a small home and it is costing me 50$ each month; on top of that I am even having to buy water sometimes. I do not know the people here but I am starting to make some friends.”
Prior to their evacuation, the people of east Aleppo were already living in survival mode and the majority did not have regular work or income. The deterioration of the financial situation in east Aleppo during the siege left the vast majority without a note to spare; and many others begging or borrowing. 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.
Last week, Omar received a cash grant of 120$ from People in Need. His unconditional grant is one of 2,651 that People in Need is offering to people displaced from east Aleppo.
“This 120$ 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 continue to provide support the most vulnerable displaced from east Aleppo. To date, we have supported over 4,000 families and individuals across 41 villages.
In addition to supporting those who have been evacuated into Aleppo and Idlib countrysides, it remains critical that we continue to support the host communities also. People in Need have been working in villages across Idlib and Aleppo governorates for nearly 5 years and today our programming in the area includes: food security and livelihoods projects; agriculture and WASH projects; as well as support to schools and capacity building initiatives. With the recent influx of thousands into these areas, already under-resourced families are now hosting relatives, friends and strangers. In the markets, prices have risen due to demand and the services in the communities are overstretched.
PIN’s Communication Officer, Sari Haj Jneid, has been attending our distributions and speaking with IDPs from east Aleppo. Listening to their stories, he believes that, “of the many humanitarian crises Syria has witnessed in the last almost 6 years, the situation in Aleppo and the forced evacuation of its people might be the most horrific. The victims are civilians; amongst them are children, women and elderly persons who were in need of urgent treatment and medical care which had been unavailable during the last weeks of the siege. Their suffering did not stop when they left Aleppo, these people have lost everything. People in Need are distributing more than 1900 bags of non-food items, 3,700 ready-to-eat food kits, 2,894 cash grants and over 3,100 food vouchers in an effort to alleviate their financial and psychological suffering.”
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.