UPDATED: ICRC Evacuations in Eastern Aleppo; Thousands in Need

Syrian Red Crescent workers stand next to buses used to evacuate civilians from East Aleppo. 2016 /AFP Stringer

Syrian Red Crescent workers stand next to buses used to evacuate civilians from East Aleppo. 2016 /AFP Stringer

Updated Wednesday AM December 21, 2016 (EST):

Since Thursday December 15th, the ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been able to facilitate the evacuation of more than 25,000 from Eastern Aleppo to rural areas in Aleppo and Idlib. Around 750 people were simultaneously evacuated from Foua and Kefraya, in Idlib province in the northwest of Syria. The wounded have been taken to health care centers, while a mix of local authorities, charities and host communities are caring for the needs of tens of thousands of other residents of East Aleppo.

After entering Eastern Aleppo on Thursday, the ICRC head of delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser, said that she had never seen such levels of suffering and destruction. "When we arrived, the scene was heart-breaking. People are faced with impossible choices. You see their eyes filled with sadness. It was very moving. No-one knows how many people are left in the east, and the evacuation could take days. Working alongside the Red Crescent, we will continue to act as a neutral intermediary, and help as many people as possible who are in need," she said.

Read the ICRC press release.

On the first day and night, SARC and ICRC managed to evacuate some 10,000 civilians including a number of critically wounded people. The teams worked through the night, carrying out multiple rotations, in order to evacuate as many civilians that wanted to leave as possible. The next morning the operation was suddenly put on hold by the key parties to the conflict in Syria. For more than 48 hours, thousands waited in limbo under very harsh conditions and great uncertainty.

A new agreement was reached, enabling the humanitarian evacuations to continue. At this juncture, the ICRC remains optimistic evacuations will now proceed as planned. Thousands of people in need would like to be evacuated, and we want to ensure this can occur safely and in a dignified manner.

The complexity of the situations means that it will likely take several more days to complete evacuations. SARC and ICRC will continue to work around the clock to ensure these can happen as soon as possible. The parties must ensure all necessary guarantees to keep this operation going, including ensuring the safety of the convoys and those civilians, staff and volunteers traveling with them. It is also vital for humanitarian organizations, at a later stage, to have access to those who remain in Eastern Aleppo and be able to respond to their needs. Finally, any civilians that choose to stay in East Aleppo protected by international humanitarian law.

The ICRC’s top concern has been and remains the safety of civilians being caught in the fighting. 

Since the end of November, fighting in Eastern Aleppo has caused tens of thousands of people to flee towards the western side of the city. Conditions are very precarious and harsh, with many people losing some of their family members in the crossfire while trying to flee. Others fled after their houses had been completely destroyed. People are traumatized and exhausted, while food, electricity, and water, are scarce.  

Everything must be done to protect civilians, to ensure their safety and well being and access to essential services, such as medical care, water, and shelter. People fleeing must be guaranteed protection, whether they stay or leave, as well as safe passage. And humanitarian agencies need to be able to reach them and deliver aid.

What displaced Syrians tell us:

The ICRC recently launched a global study, People on War, which asked 17,000 people across 16 different countries about their attitudes on war. Syrians, who had fled to Lebanon were included in the survey and despite being exposed heavily to armed conflict, had strong feelings on the importance of international humanitarian law, especially when compared to counterparts in the five countries making up the U.N. Security Council's permanent members: China, France, Russia, the Britain, and the US (P5 countries). Some of the results of the survey are below.

Conduct of Hostilities

When asked about combatant behavior in time of war, 72% of Syrians said combatants must avoid civilians as much as possible. When asked about attacks on populated villages or towns in order to weaken the enemy, knowing that many civilians would be killed, 66% of Syrians said it was wrong and 22% said it was just part of war. In comparison, 36% of participants in the US said that it was wrong, and 50 % said it was just part of war. When it came to depriving civilian populations of food, medicine or water in order to weaken the enemy, 78% of Syrians said it was wrong compared to 57% of Americans.

 Respect for IHL

Even among countries affected by armed conflict, Syrians had strong respect for the laws of war. Only 19% of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon thought that if combatants did not respect the laws of war, it gave the opposing side the right to disrespect them, compared to 37% of respondents in the group of countries affected by armed conflict. In the US, 33% of participants said it if combatants did not respect the laws of war, it gave the opposing side the right to disrespect them.

Migration

One thing that both countries affected by armed conflict as well as the P5 countries lined up on was the reasons behind migration: 72% of people in the countries affected by armed conflict agreed that civilians would be less inclined to flee their countries if combatants showed greater respect for the laws of war, 65% of respondents in P5 countries agreed.

For the latest information on the evacuations and situation in Aleppo, visit www.icrc.org or follow the ICRC in Syria.

Learn more about the ICRC’s People on War report