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In besieged neighbourhoods, 250,000 Syrians isolated from aid - U.N.'s Amos

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 4 Dec 2013 09:52 AM
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A child reacts as he holds his father's hand after hearing what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 250,000 civilians in besieged communities in Syria are being denied vital humanitarian aid, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief said, as malnourished residents struggle to survive with winter setting in.

Residents in the conflict-torn areas of the Old City of Homs, Damascus, Moadamiya, Douma, Yalda, Yarmouk and Erbin told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that there have been cuts to electricity and communications, and that the Syrian government forces are preventing food, medicine and aid workers from reaching the civilian population.

“People in Syria are desperate for food, shelter and healthcare,” Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director at HRW, said in a statement. “Access to besieged communities is a litmus test for real change in the relief effort, and the Security Council should make clear that Syria is failing that test.”

Local activists and residents in Homs and besieged suburbs of Damascus told HRW that people are suffering from severe food shortages and there have been deaths due to lack of medical care.

“Government forces sometimes allowed some people to leave and bring back food and other supplies through a checkpoint in Yarmouk as long as they did not use cars. Several months ago, however the soldiers sealed off the checkpoint completely, preventing people from bringing anything in. Since then we have had no bread at all,” a member of the local council in Eastern Ghouta told HRW.

A local activist in the Damascus suburb Moadamiya told HRW that residents there are also experiencing severe food shortages.

“People’s faces are yellow because of malnutrition and all of us have lost weight. I myself lost about 17 kilograms in the last four months,” they said. “We start to feel cold very quickly. We can’t fight the low temperatures. That is now one more enemy for us – the cold. It is a terrifying situation. It is a race against time.”

Meanwhile, in a briefing to the U.N. Security Council in New York, the world body’s humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said that there has been progress in getting aid into Syria, but hundreds of thousands remain inaccessible.

“About 250,000 are in besieged communities, which are communities that we [U.N. agencies] aren’t able to reach at all, while there are 2.5 million in hard-to-reach areas, which may have been reached only once,” Amos told reporters after addressing the Security Council.

SOME AID PERMITTED

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has managed to deliver food to 3 million Syrians within the country, although they have not reached their target of 4 million due to budget restraints, Amos said.

Three new hubs are being established within Syria for the purpose of delivering aid, although they will not help U.N. agencies reach isolated communities in Daraa, she said.

Syrian authorities recently agreed to allow humanitarian aid to cross the borders from Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, but have stated that restrictions will continue on the Turkish border.

Nine aid convoys were approved by the Syrian authorities last month, an improvement on the previous average of three a month.

The Syrian government has also issued more than 50 visas for humanitarian workers, and U.N. agencies now have 1,000 staff working in Syria, many of whom are Syrian nationals.

HRW reported that the Syrian government is not alone in stopping the flow of aid, with some opposition forces also obstructing aid efforts.

Residents in Yarmouk and the Old City of Homs told HRW that opposition fighters have been restricting civilian movements.

Within Aleppo, anti-government groups have prevented supplies from reaching local residents and have also kidnapped aid workers, including three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross who remain missing.

“As winter sets in, the situation in besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria becomes even more dire, and people are becoming more desperate. There is no time for delay,” said HRW’s Bolopion. 

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