2016-12-20 11:55:00

Aid agencies race against time for civilians fleeing Aleppo

(Vatican Radio) Tens of thousands of people have fled eastern Aleppo city in the past weeks, seeking safety and protection.

However, their new reality could be bleak if they aren’t properly equipped for winter, as temperatures are low and will dip to –5 degrees Celsius at night in the coming days.

The Norwegian Refugee Council is one of the humanitarian agencies struggling to ensure life-saving assistance for those in desperate need as they flee fighting in Aleppo and across Syria.

NRC Syria Response Country Director, Thomas White, told Linda Bordoni about the emergency assistance being provided and of his concern for the coming months.


Tom White explains that there is a NRC team operating north of Aleppo and that they have started providing assistance to families who have left the city in recent days. He says the first thing the team is doing is to offer families some sort of shelter.

He says they spoke to one man who is head of his household, and he is part of a group of 27 families who have moved from eastern Aleppo in recent days.   

“They left the city with just a bag of clothes, they spent many nights in the open and, the conditions are very cold and they had to cross multiple frontlines to get to an area of relative safety” he said.

White also said the families that arrived were “very tired, very distressed and very cold and so the immediate concern of organizations such as the NRC is to provide some basic shelter, basic household items: that is the priority at this stage”.

“We are very concerned that there are a large number of people who have been displaced due to fighting in and around Aleppo and in other parts of Syria who are living without the basic protection of a roof over their heads” he said.

Meanwhile, White says certainly in the north of Aleppo, the NRC has provided assistance to about 1.500 people and it has the capacity to provide shelter, basic household items, water and waste removal to several thousand more.

But, he said, this is a situation which many people in Syria are facing and in fact those who have left or are leaving Aleppo join the list of the 6 million people who are internally displaced in Syria.

White says there is much concern for the children caught up in the tragedy.

“Particularly the children from eastern Aleppo have been living in very, very difficult conditions for many years, they have then just taken a very risky journey to get out of eastern Aleppo, and as you can imagine they have experienced conditions and seen things we wouldn’t wish that any child should see” he said.

So, organizations such as NRC are providing support to children. White says that in the north of the country NRC has plans to support some 5.000 children with some basic recreational activities but also with psycho-social counselling for children that have fled fighting.

Looking to the near future, White says there are a couple of key issues that must be ensured.

“The first one is that we need to be able to support these people not just today and tomorrow, but we need to be supporting them in the next few months, particularly during the cold of winter” he said.

Secondly, he continues : “it is very promising to see that the evacuations from Eastern Aleppo have started again and we continue to urge all parties to the conflict to allow the safe passage of civilians out of areas where there is fighting – whether it be Aleppo or other parts of the country”.

And really, White concludes, “for a humanitarian organization such as the NRC, along with our partners we are really seeking sustained humanitarian access to these people so we can look after their needs at least over the next few months of winter”.              


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