The Norwegian Refugee Council is at the reception sites delivering essential aid with other actors as thousands more are believed to be on their way out of the besieged areas. Many of them are currently housed in schools and severely damaged buildings but others are sleeping in the open air or improvising tents with plastic sheets as spaces are running out.
“The needs and numbers of people leaving Ghouta are larger than expected, but we fear that the worst is still to come,” said NRC’s Syria Deputy Country Director, Erik Abild. “People who have fled tell us that there will be many more. We’re extremely worried about the conditions the families are arriving in and we call for all actors to work together to ensure that we can give these people assistance and protection. We’re also deeply concerned about those still trapped in Eastern Ghouta and exposed to continuous fighting. Children and families are being killed in schools, hospitals and basements. This has to stop. We need an immediate humanitarian pause in the fighting so that aid can reach those who need it and to ensure that those who want to leave do so in a safe way.”
An aid worker working in one of the areas that received thousands overnight said: “We are seeing many needing medical attention and malnourished people reaching the reception centres. Many are extremely concerned about what comes next. But they are also ashamed of how they look, how they are dressed, how they smell, and are embarrassed in front of us, crying about seeing themselves in this situation. They didn’t eat in days, they didn’t have a bath for days, weeks or months, they are thirsty and cold, and they do not have a space where to sleep.”
NRC together with others is distributing aid to the newly arrived people from Eastern Ghouta and focusing on the most vulnerable, especially children—many of whom are suffering severe distress—but the needs are dramatically increasing by the hour.
“There is already a critical sanitation problem. There is not enough toilets and water for the extremely high number of people amassed in small places, and we’re very concerned that this already critical situation might deteriorate further very quickly,” Abild said. “We call on all actors to enable an increase of humanitarian assistance and protection in this critical situation. Donors also need to step up the humanitarian funding. Civilians starved in the besieged areas for months cannot be deprived of aid now that we can assist them. There is also an urgent need for other suitable reception sites. But most of all we need a stop to the fighting. Only then can we really begin to protect civilians.”