At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

After fleeing 600 days of siege, a Syrian family has nowhere to go

By Razan Rashidi

With the United Nations Security Council’s approval last week of a resolution demanding humanitarian access in the Syrian Arab Republic, there is renewed hope – after three long years – for the possibility of reaching civilian populations with desperately needed relief.

Earlier in February, a UN-mediated ceasefire in the Syrian city of Homs enabled the evacuation of hundreds of people who had been trapped in the Old City for more than a year and half with little food or medicine and surrounded by heavy fighting.

For Ahida and her family, the departure from Homs has given them a sense of safety for now, but their ordeal is far from over.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2014/Rashidi
One of Ahida's sons in the Al Andalus shelter, where the family has taken refuge after evacuating the Old City of Homs.

HOMS, Syrian Arab Republic, 25 February 2014 – “We have no idea where can we go now,” says Ahida, a mother of six living in Al Andalus, at a facility for internally displaced people. “When we left the Old City, we knew we don’t have anywhere to go, but we had enough of hunger. We had to leave Old Homs.”

Ahida, her husband, and four of their children fled the Old City of Homs two weeks ago during the UN-monitored evacuation mission. In the week-long mission, 1,366 people are reported to have been evacuated from the Old City, including 332 children, 36 of them infants.

Most of the evacuees showed signs of trauma, illness and malnutrition. Some of them were hospitalized, and many others will need long-term psychosocial care.

“We waited for assistance for so long, rumors kept going around that we will be rescued and the world will not let us simply die of hunger,” Ahida says while her baby boy sleeps peacefully next to her.

Under siege

For more than 18 months, as military operations carried on, the old quarter of the city was prevented from receiving all goods, medical and energy supplies. UNICEF, along with other UN and international actors, advocated continually to allow humanitarian assistance to the civilians trapped in the Old City.

“Many previous attempts to enter the Old City with humanitarian aid – as far back as June 2012 – were unsuccessful,” says Youssouf Abdel Jelil, UNICEF Representative in the Syrian Arab Republic. “As the siege continued, humanitarian conditions inside the Old City continued to deteriorate.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2014/Rashidi
Ahida and her youngest son in the Al Andalus shelter. Around 2,600 people are still believed to remain in the Old City of Homs.

Under these harsh conditions, civilians were forced to adapt with creative solutions simply to survive.
“Along with my neighbors, we started cooking grass and weeds for main mails. We boiled herbs to make soup for the children,” Ahida says. “We had little to eat for ourselves, but children get the first attention.”

Lost contact

Ahida has two married daughters, but she has not seen either of them for two years. She lost contact completely with the eldest, aged 20. “Her husband took her to the Damascus suburbs somewhere,” Ahida recalls. “When our house got shelled last year, everything was burnt. We lost our phones and did not have any way to contact them. I pray for her safety every night.”

Her second married daughter is only 17. “When the conditions were so difficult in Old Homs, a distant relative proposed to her, and we agreed to marry her off, as we wanted her be somewhere safe,” the mother says. “She was around 15 years old.”

The younger daughter is also somewhere in Damascus, but Ahida is not sure where. “We managed to speak to her over the phone,” she smiles. “She brought the news to us that she is five months pregnant.”

Shattered families

Three years of crisis have shattered many families across Syria and the region. In the Al Andalus shelter, there are dozens of men who sent their families to neighboring countries or to inaccessible parts of Syria. Now they wonder how to reach them.

Meanwhile, a population of around 2,600 is still believed to remain in the Old City of Homs. As part of the evacuation mission, UN agencies were able to provide some of the planned assistance inside the Old City.

“Despite coming under attack, several humanitarian convoys managed to deliver much-needed supplies to the Old City, including food and medicines,” says Mr. Abdel Jelil.

After such a long time, it is a promising breakthrough. But against the enormous scale of need, it is just the beginning.


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UNICEF Photography: Syrian Crisis

 

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