Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Nearly 20,000 Children Flee Aleppo | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian children play on a street with plastic toy guns on July 6, 2016. AMEER ALHALBI / AFP

Aleppo- The United Nations said on Friday that nearly 20,000 children have fled their homes in battered east Aleppo in recent days, warning that time is running out to provide them with the help they desperately need.

The U.N. said some 31,500 people had fled their homes in opposition-held east Aleppo since November 24, when the Syrian regime intensified its brutal offensive to retake the entire city.

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF estimates that around 60 percent of those displaced — around 19,000 — are children.

Dozens of families trickled out Friday, adding to the more than 50,000 people who have left east Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“What is critical now is that we provide the immediate and sustained assistance that these children and their families desperately need,” UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac said.

“It’s a race against time, as winter is here and conditions are basic,” he told reporters in Geneva.

He said UNICEF had “winter clothing and blankets … ready for distribution (to) at least help to provide some protection from the freezing temperatures.”

The U.N. refugee agency meanwhile warned Friday that the main focus now in providing aid to those flooding out of east Aleppo is “the rapidly growing shelter needs”.

“Many of those who have fled eastern districts are now in unfinished or partly destroyed buildings,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters.

“Unsanitary conditions and overcrowding are already challenges in a congested city with few open spaces,” he said.

In addition to trying to provide shelter, food, healthcare and other physical assistance to the displaced, the U.N. is also providing much needed psychological support, he added.

Syrian regime forces backed by their allies, including Russia, launched their offensive against Aleppo on November 15.

U.N. Humanitarian Chief Stephen O’Brien warned on Wednesday that eastern Aleppo was being turned into “one giant graveyard”, as the Syrian regime and Russian forces were overrunning the rebel-held area.