Growing shelter pressure in Aleppo for the thousands fleeing

Many of those who have fled eastern districts are now in unfinished or partly destroyed buildings. Unsanitary conditions and overcrowding are already challenges in a congested city with few open spaces.

Newly arrived families wait for their turn to enter the shelter. Capacity is stretched at Mahalej collection centre. UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations are scaling up their operations to meet people’s needs. ; Exact numbers of people present at Mahalej remain difficult to gauge as it is not a static environment – it is a transitional shelter space where people arrive and then often quickly move on to other locations. UNHCR and ICRC are working around the clock to upgrade the transitional collective shelter in Mahalej, including the partitioning of large hangars to provide shelter to fleeing families. So far, 11 halls have been refurbished, accommodating approximately 1,800 people and work is ongoing. UNHCR is working with partners to expand other services at Al Mahalej – including waste management, hot water for showers, and repairs to broken doors and windows. The battle for the city of Aleppo between Russian-backed Syrian government forces and rebel fighters was the longest and bloodiest of the country's civil war. As the city itself was destroyed piecemeal by constant aerial, rocket and artillery attacks, tens of thousands of civilians were caught up in the brutal conflict. Many remained trapped in rubble which had once been homes, businesses and schools but during 2016 others escaped the destruction. An estimated 37,000 people fled east Aleppo to safer areas in west Aleppo and the surrounding countryside, mainly taking refuge in communal shelters and individual buildings. UNHCR provides protection services, upgraded and expanded shelters and distributed emergency winter items including thermal blankets, sleeping bags, plastic sheeting and winter clothing

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Syria’s Aleppo, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, remains extremely concerned for the civilian population. With thousands fleeing the eastern part of the city, our focus has turned to the rapidly growing shelter needs.

Many of those who have fled eastern districts are now in unfinished or partly-destroyed buildings. Unsanitary conditions and overcrowding are already challenges in a congested city with few open spaces.

We have been providing tents, shelter kits and sealing-off kits to meet the most urgent needs and improve living conditions. We are also working with partners to quickly rehabilitate structures as temperatures drop.

Food, water, medical care and other items are being distributed by UNHCR and partners alongside winter clothing and other relief items. We have emergency supplies of non-food items, among them blankets and tents, for 45,000 people in western Aleppo. These can be replenished at short notice.

It is estimated that some 30,000 people have fled just in the last days. In all there are now some 400,000 displaced people in western Aleppo.

In Jibreen, an industrial zone, recent arrivals have joined approximately 55,000 people who had already fled the fighting in recent months. The area has now reached full capacity. A UN inter-agency assessment in Jibreen found that 60-70 per cent of recent arrivals were women and children. Working through partners, a large-scale building rehabilitation has been completed in Jibreen. Further work to boost shelter capacity there will be carried out as buildings are declared safe.

Buildings in the 1070 and Rayiada housing complexes in government-controlled south-western Aleppo, which are unfinished residential areas where displaced people were being housed until August 2016, are heavily damaged. UNHCR had previously upgraded over 5,000 shelters in the 1070 district. Some are now at risk of collapse and work on rehabilitation is underway.

Additional UNHCR protection and shelter staff arrived in western Aleppo on Thursday as part of a UN mission. They will be providing a detailed assessment of the needs of the recently displaced. We are already offering psychological counselling as well as legal, protection, gender-based violence, education and other protection services at 15 community centres in the area and nearby.

Displacement also continues within eastern Aleppo itself, with many having been forced to move several times, according to a survey recently conducted by UNHCR and NGO partners.

Since September, UNHCR has supported 838,092 people in Syria, including Aleppo, with winter items, including thermal blankets, sleeping bags, plastic sheets and clothing.

We are still unable to reach the many thousands without food, water and shelter in eastern Aleppo as temperatures drop and fighting rages. With its UN partners, UNHCR continues to call for an end to the hostilities to allow safe passage out, and humanitarian assistance to be delivered.

For more information on this topic, please contact:
In Geneva, Matthew Saltmarsh, saltmars@unhcr.org, +41 79 217 31 40
In Jordan, Scott Craig, craigs@unhcr.org, +962 7 9276 0640