A senior official at the United Nations said that thousands of people have started to return to formerly rebel-held east Aleppo in spite of the bitter cold and destruction “beyond imagination” in order to inspect their destroyed homes.
Sajjad Malik, the country representative in Syria for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that 2,200 families have returned to the Hanano housing district in the last couple of days. He added in an interview that “People are coming out to east Aleppo to see their shops, their houses, to see if the buildings are standing and whether their houses have been looted… to see, should they come back.”
People returning face miserable conditions. Malik said that “It is extremely, bitterly cold here,” and “The houses people are going back to have no windows or doors, no cooking facilities.”
Aid is necessary to prevent the deaths of more people. Malik said that the UN is helping people to restart their lives in one room of their apartments to start with, by giving them mats, sleeping bags and plastic sheets to cover blown-out windows.
The neighbourhood of Hanano was one of the first Aleppo neighbourhoods that fell to the rebels in 2012, and was the first to be retaken by the Syrian regime on its way to seizing back full control of the northern city last month – the biggest victory for President Bashar Al-Assad in nearly six years of war.
With the rapid advance of government forces, some residents remained, but tens of thousands fled of their own accord and 35,000 fighters and civilians were evacuated in late December in convoys organised by the Syrian government.