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UN alarm over Syria's worsening humanitarian crisis

10 aprile 2018 | 18.11
LETTURA: 3 minuti

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Photo: AFP

As violence continues in several areas of Syria and in the wake of a suspected chemical weapons attack there, the United Nations refugee agency on Tuesday voiced alarm at the civilian death toll and escalating numbers of people fleeing their homes.

"This is on top of a humanitarian situation that is already desperate; Syrian civilians have suffered more than enough," said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.

The situation in the rebel enclave of Douma in Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, where tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped "is of particular concern," Mahecic said. Douma was the site of the suspected chemical attack on Saturday in which dozens of people allegedly died.

Nearly a quarter of a million people urgently need aid in Eastern Ghouta and UNHCR estimates that over 133,000 people have fled the Damascus suburb in the past four weeks - an almost threefold increase from the numbers reported on 20 March, Mahecic stated.

Among those who have fled since the first week in March are some 45,000 people who are currently being housed in eight collective shelters in the rural outskirts of Damascus. An estimated 44,000, mainly women, children and elderly have so far been allowed to leave the collective shelters after undergoing security screening, he said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR teams are working with UN and NGO partners to help improve conditions in the cramped collective shelters, Mahecic said.

"Overcrowded shelters and insufficient sanitation facilities are posing serious health risks," he warned.

"Common concerns we are hearing are a lack of civil documentation, restrictions on freedom of movement, family separation and sexual and gender-based violence risks."

"We continue to appeal to all parties to the conflict for proper protection of civilians, including freedom of movement and free choice over where to stay. Family unity must also be respected," Mahecic added.

UNHCR has so far brought aid to more than 60,000 people in Eastern Ghouta. There is a particular need for clothes and the agency is purchasing these locally as many people fled with nothing more than what they were wearing. In addition to a massive shelter effort, UNHCR protection partners have provided legal advice to 22,000 people, said Mahecic.

Syria's Afrin region where Turkey carried out a recent military offensive to drive out the Kurdish YPG militia poses "similar challenges and concerns", he said. UNHCR is responding to the humanitarian needs of over 137,000 Syrians who fled the Afrin region, although the numbers of refugees have now subsided and some people are now returning home, Mahecic reported.

Most of the refugees from Afrin are scattered across Tal Rifaat, Nubol, Zahraa and surrounding villages in northwest Aleppo, living in makeshift shelters, damaged or unfinished buildings, mosques, warehouses and outdoors, he said. Some 3,500 people are being sheltered in a tented camp in Fafin to the north of Aleppo and UNHCR has distributed more than 1,400 kits for shelter rehabilitation and redeployed 1,000 UNHCR family-sized tents, for use as needed, as needed.

"We continue to appeal to all parties to the conflict for proper protection of civilians, including freedom of movement and free choice over where to stay. Family unity must also be respected," Mahecic added.

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