End of a four year siege. Victims of ‘starvation or surrender’ war zone head towards a displacement camp of ShelterBox UN style tents
For a gruelling four years, residents of Darraya in the Syrian capital Damascus have lived under siege, with little aid and people starving to death. A new deal is seeing thousands of civilians moved to displacement camps in the south and north, where ShelterBox tents are waiting
Caught since 2012 between the regime and the rebels, the people of Darraya in Damascus have endured a miserable four years as pawns in a deadly stand-off. An unknown number have died in fighting, bombing, or of malnutrition.
Over the weekend a huge evacuation was triggered by a military deal to cease fighting, which has been characterised as a long running ‘starve or surrender’ strategy. An estimated 8,000 civilians moved by foot and then onto aid buses to uncertain futures in displacement camps either in Sahnaya to the south west, or to Idlib in the north.
ShelterBox has supplied thirty large UN-style tents and other non-food items to a camp in Idlib Governorate near the Turkish border. Much of this aid was trucked in months ago, and more is queuing at the border. The tents have been delivered and erected by ShelterBox’s in-country partner organisation, London-based Hand in Hand for Syria.
Around fifty green and white buses, eight ambulances and several Red Crescent and UN vehicles stood ready early on Friday waiting for the signal to drive into Darraya. The suburb of Damascus now lies in ruins. Tearful residents said their final goodbyes. ‘This is the hardest moment, everyone is crying, young and old,’ said one resident. The first buses to emerge with evacuees carried mostly children, elderly people and women.
ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Sam Hewett says, ‘The siege of Darraya has been one of the longest-running human tragedies in Syria. Although thousands have left their homes this weekend, they are heading to safer places where there will be food, water and shelter. An exodus on this scale is hard to witness, but at least ShelterBox and Hand in Hand for Syria have been able to provide some comfort for these weary people displaced by war.’
United Nation’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien reported to the Security Council earlier this year that the lack of food in Darraya was forcing some people to eat grass, and that residents were burning plastics as fuel. ‘No one will remain here,’ said Hussam Ayash from Darraya. ‘Our condition has deteriorated to the point of being unbearable.’
The UN said it was not involved in negotiating the deal, but that a team will enter Darraya to identify civilian needs. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura says, ‘It is tragic that repeated appeals to lift the siege of Darraya and cease the fighting have never been heeded.’ He added it is ‘imperative’ that its residents be protected, and evacuated only voluntarily, adding, ‘The world is watching.’
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