‘We are waiting to die.’ Aleppo aid workers heartfelt plea to the international community ahead of World Humanitarian Day 19 August
In the week when the UN calls for a more humane world, New Zealand humanitarian organisation ReliefAid reports a graphic description of the fear and suffering inside war-shattered Aleppo. With 150 air strikes in a day, and aid workers, their families and buildings in constant peril, they warn ‘nowhere is safe’
The United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day is held every year on 19 August to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, and to mobilise people to advocate for a more humane world.
It falls as the Syrian city of Aleppo is still crumbling under continuous bombing, its people barely coping with a lack of electricity, clean water, fuel or affordable food.
In the last 24 hours, the image of this dazed and bloodied young boy in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo has highlighted the plight of the city and its citizens. His situation shows the sad reality that little progress is being made in resolving the crisis, with families and children ultimately paying the price.
New Zealand humanitarian organisation ReliefAid has a team based in Aleppo, many of them with their families. Like two million others who remain in Aleppo, they are now trapped in a besieged city amid escalating fighting.
Only days ago ReliefAid was distributing the last of a consignment of aid from UK disaster relief agency ShelterBox, a total of 4,000 kits over the last six months, able to help over 24,500 people. The last 1,500 – a mix of life-saving essentials including water purification equipment, jerry cans, mats, solar lamps, tarpaulins, mosquito nets and kitchen sets – were delivered to families shortly after the closure of the arterial Castello Road cut Aleppo off from aid and from the outside world.
Executive Director of ReliefAid Mike Seawright is on the Syrian-Turkish border, and is in constant touch with his team in Aleppo. On Wednesday, he told Larry Williams of New Zealand’s Newstalk ZB radio station, ‘Yesterday alone my team reported 150 air strikes. I talk to my team on a daily basis, and they are part of the community. Their homes are getting hit, their markets are getting attacked. Last week our office was hit in a strike that was targeting the building next door.’ Listen to the interview …
‘They hit the building beside us, forcing us to move to a new location in the city and literally two days later there was a gas attack on that neighbourhood. So nowhere is safe.’
‘And in some cases first responders, for example the ‘white helmets’ who go and get people out of buildings after they’ve been attacked and destroyed, appear to have been deliberately targeted in follow-up attacks. There is no respect for the humanitarian space inside Aleppo city.’
Mike reports a conversation with one of the ReliefAid team that paints a bleak picture. ‘My team have families within the city. There has been a complete loss of faith in the international community to react to what has been a systematic campaign to destroy east Aleppo. I was talking to one of my team and his view, which is very pessimistic, is that we are waiting to die. Waiting for our tomb, for when the air strike hits us.’
‘It has been a challenging time for our team but I am proud to say they have managed the situation well, in what have been very difficult circumstances. Families continue to experience acute needs within the city, and we stand ready to assist those in dire need.’
World Humanitarian Day is marked every year with events held around the world. Under the banner of ‘One Humanity’ the UN and its partners hope to inspire greater global action for the 130 million people affected by conflict and disaster.
In New York a special event will be held at the General Assembly tomorrow from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. Hala Kalim and her four children, whose arduous journey from Aleppo to Germany was featured in the documentary ‘Children of Syria’, will attend. They will tell the world their story of the impossible choices they faced living in, and fleeing, Syria. A wreath-laying ceremony will also be held at the UN Headquarters to honour aid workers who lost their lives in humanitarian service.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
- Photos above, showing aid distribution in Aleppo, can be used in the context of this press release © ReliefAid and ShelterBox
- Comms and security issues mean we cannot offer interviews with ReliefAid workers within Aleppo, but it you can connect with Mike Seawright, ReliefAid’s Executive Director, currently overseeing operations from the Syrian-Turkish border ([email protected], skype: mike.seawright, T. +64 21 0363695).
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