Evacuations from east Aleppo have progressed fitfully, but there is limited monitoring, and aid agencies and human rights groups have expressed concern for the conditions awaiting those bussed away, as well as those left behind – civilians and fighters alike.
IRIN was there at the start, with a 360-degree camera, when some of the first evacuees crossed into rebel-held territory. See for yourself as ambulances and green Syrian government buses pull into al-Rashideen on day two of the process, 16 December, with some evacuees hanging out of windows and chanting religious slogans.
Coming after months of brutal siege and the city’s descent into what outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called “a synonym for hell”, evacuations from the rebel-held enclave have been far from smooth – buses have been set alight, shots fired, and halts imposed thanks to ongoing deal-making. But the International Committee of the Red Cross now estimates that more than 25,000 people have been taken out of the besieged neighbourhoods.
Ankara and Moscow have said the evacuations may be finished soon, with some human rights groups expressing concern that the late and limited remit of monitors demanded by a UN Security Council Resolution is too little too late.
This is far from the only siege or evacuation in Syria that warrants watching, and many displaced are headed to warzones in the middle of winter, in desperate need of assistance. Some 6.3 million Syrians are displaced in their own country, and 4.9 million (at the UN's last count) live in areas that are besieged or hard to reach. Humanitarian access continues to be tied up with political negotiations.
Limited monitor remit
While some have expressed concern that by the time monitors arrive there will be nothing left to see, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, told IRIN that many appeared to misunderstand the mandate.
“It’s important to understand that this is not a separate monitoring mission where you will have UN staff with an armband,” Laerke said. “It strengthens [UN] partners and institutions that they work with to provide this monitoring.”
He said some UN staffers who were already in Syria had now been sent to west Aleppo, with more on the way, but “we don't have direct access as the UN into still besieged east Aleppo”.
UN staffers are on the ground as buses cross out of rebel-held east Aleppo, “counting buses”, for example, as well as providing aid, Laerke said, stressing that the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent “have been running [the evacuation] operation since it began” and are serving as the monitors in east Aleppo.
Representatives of the ICRC or SARC were not immediately available for comment.
(TOP PHOTO: Displaced people southeast of the city of Aleppo, in Jibreen, as ICRC and SARC visit collective shelters in November. Sana Tarabishi/ICRC)