Beyond Aleppo: the reality of endless conflict

December 23, 2016
Written by Kristin Myers
Photo by Kieran McConville

Despite the recent completion of evacuations in East Aleppo, all signs point to continued suffering for Syrians in the worst affected areas of the country.

“What has happened in Aleppo is barbaric,” Concern Worldwide’s Chief Executive Dominic MacSorley said in a statement on Wednesday, December 14 — two days before voluntary evacuations commenced. “Innocent children, women, and the elderly are trapped in Aleppo, terrified for their lives, under constant attack, with absolutely no hope. How could the international community stand by and let this happen?”

"Iman" is a Syrian refugee who is living in a garage

“Iman” lost 19 members of her family, including her husband, all of her children except one daughter, and all but one grandson in a bombing attack on their home in Syria. She lives in a garage in the Akkar province of Lebanon, which has been weatherproofed and plumbed by Concern. Photo: Kieran McConville

The final evacuations of eastern Aleppo took place yesterday, after Syrian forces took complete control of the city. Earlier this week, several thousand residents awaited the journey out of Syria’s largest city, and on Monday, the UN’s Special Advisor on Syria, Jan Egeland, stated that as many as 900 buses would be needed to rescue everyone. The UN Security Council unanimously voted to deploy UN staff to monitor the Aleppo evacuations, and stressed the need for passage of all civilians to the destination of their choice, with access to humanitarian aid for those who need it most.

According to UNHCR, 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced within the country since fighting erupted six years ago in March 2011

“Our task now is to turn these words into meaningful action,” said Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination. “We stand ready to scale up our presence and efforts across the entire city, in line with the resolution and international humanitarian law,” he added. “This can be done immediately, but only if the parties live up to this resolution.”

A hollow turning point

Though the fight for Aleppo has come to an end, conflict continues in many parts of Syria, so evacuees are simply fleeing from one war zone to another.

“While the focus has rightly been on Aleppo, we call for peace talks to end the fighting there and throughout Syria,” MacSorley said. “Until fighting ends everywhere, the risk of civilians going from one place to another and facing terror is very high.”

Syrian refugee Afaf, stands by the window

Syrian refugee Afaf, stands by the window of the kitchen in the collective shelter where she lives with her family in Akroum, in Akkar, north of Lebanon. Photo: Dalia Khamissy

The UN estimates that more than a quarter of a million people have been killed, and, according to UNHCR (link here to figures), 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced within the country since fighting erupted six years ago in March 2011. Some 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Concern Worldwide has been working inside Syria since 2013, reaching over 200,000 Syrians. Current operations include water, sanitation, and hygiene programs to prevent the spread of cholera and other waterborne diseases. We have provided basic immediate assistance to displaced families, providing blankets, tarpaulins, solar lamps, jerry cans and sleeping mats. Our teams are also distributing food vouchers and parcels to families in need.

The human toll

The daily realities of the Aleppo evacuees may improve, but firsthand accounts from their fellow Syrians in some of the worst affected areas suggest continued suffering.

People living in these areas have spoken with Concern Worldwide teams and pointed to the risk of car bombings and attacks in public spaces, and during special events. Others told of their worry about landmines and unexploded shells.

Unemployment has soared, while food and fuel prices have skyrocketed, adding additional pressure to already vulnerable communities.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable. A 2014 UN report details how many children have been the victims of torture, sexual abuse, arrest, and arbitrary detention. Some of the worst attacks on children involved chemical weapons.

The continuous armed conflict has limited access to basic necessities like food, water, electricity, and medical supplies for much of the country. Unemployment has soared, while food and fuel prices have skyrocketed, adding additional pressure to already vulnerable communities.

A Syrian child living in an informal settlement near the city of Halba in Northern Lebanon.

A Syrian child living in an informal settlement near the city of Halba in Northern Lebanon. In Akaar district Concern works with Syrian refugees in education, protection, shelter, hygiene promotion, and the provision of water and sanitation services. Photo: Kieran McConville

As a result, many have turned to negative coping mechanisms. Children have dropped out of school to work and contribute to the household. Many young boys find themselves recruited into opposition armies, or pressured to join the fighting to safeguard their families and property from armed groups. Others are sent, unaccompanied, out of the country to prevent them from being dragged into the conflict. According to Girls Not Brides, child marriage has increased since the start of the crisis, as parents hope that through marriage, their daughters will be cared for. For Syrian families, these are all desperate responses to a desperate situation.

As CEO Dominic MacSorley indicated in his statement, these measures will do little in the long run if a political solution does not end this crisis. With each passing year, the needs, and money required to meet them, continue to rise — not to mention the overwhelming assistance needed to help the 4.8 million Syrian refugees currently living in neighboring countries.



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