‘Please save us’
This is the only message we received from our Syrian colleagues in Aleppo in the last days. Hearing no news from them last weekend, we were concerned as the humanitarian situation deteriorated and the government gained control of the city. The message they sent did little to reassure us.
“After this, we don’t know what will happen or how we can survive,” wrote a Syrian humanitarian worker.
The inhabitants of Aleppo are frightened by reports of the arrest, detention, and disappearances of civilians. People are sharing ‘goodbye’ messages, saying they cannot describe what they are seeing, that if they don’t answer next time, they are likely dead. What is certain is that heavy fighting continues and the bombs cannot distinguish between humanitarians, civilians, and combatants.
We are receiving urgent pleas from several Syrian NGOs for assistance in evacuating the citizens of eastern Aleppo, including in this message from the Nobel Prize nominated White Helmets:
“The bombs are falling as we write this. For years our humanitarian volunteers have worked to save the lives of our people in Aleppo […]. We can do no more. Now we are with 100,000 civilians trapped in an area of five square kilometers with the non-stop bombs, shells and advancements on the ground. In one building more than 500 people are sheltering. People have been underground for days.”
The lives of aid workers trapped in eastern Aleppo are also threatened. Since 2012, all humanitarian assistance delivered outside of the government supervision is prohibited. Assistance to civilian populations in areas controlled by the opposition is seen as an act of resistance and tacit support for the rebels. Saving lives is then considered a criminal activity. Our fellow humanitarians risk being imprisoned, tortured, or killed.
We are frustrated by our powerlessness. And we are horrified to see the international community allowing this massacre to continue. But we must not give up. We must not be overwhelmed by despair as hundreds of thousands of civilians try to survive among the continued bombardment.
We have neither the luxury nor the right to stay silent. So again and again, we call on the governments involved in this conflict to do the decent thing. The gross violations of international humanitarian law must stop. All parties must immediately end the violence and allow humanitarian actors to provide desperately needed assistance and safety to those in need. We cannot sacrifice civilian lives. No human life is disposable.
By Khaled Mostafa, CARE Advocacy and Communications Advisor