Relief Aid Worker Killed By Sniper In Aleppo

ReliefAid chief speaks after one of his Aleppo aid colleagues was killed by a sniper. ShelterBox’s partner charity welcomes ceasefire for Syrian families living in ‘hell on earth’

The Al Zubdia neighbourhood of southern Aleppo, near the ReliefAid offices where Karam died

The Al Zubdia neighbourhood of southern Aleppo, near the ReliefAid offices where Karam died

A little over a week ago aid worker Karam died from a sniper’s bullet after working on the roof of his charity’s office in southern Aleppo. Now, with a tense and fragile ceasefire underway, his colleagues are calling on ‘all parties to take up this unique opportunity for peace.’

Executive Director of ReliefAid, Mike Seawright, describes the circumstances of the death of one of his aid team in Aleppo on Sunday 4 September. 

‘It was at our ReliefAid office in Al Zubdia neighbourhood. Karam was part of our team for the last year, conducting our neighbourhood aid distributions. After our previous office had been wrecked during an air strike he was fixing the water tank on the roof of the new office when he was shot by a sniper. Karam was rushed to the local hospital where he underwent six hours of surgery, unfortunately succumbing to his injuries. His family and our team buried him the next day in a local neighbourhood garden.’

Karam (name changed for security reasons) leaves a wife and three daughters in East Aleppo (2, 7 and 10 years old), two sons in Lebanon (20 and 18 years old). He also had family in West Aleppo, and was a citizen of Aleppo city.

Mike Seawright adds, ‘The local neighbourhood gardens used to be places where children play. Now they are graveyards, filled by the very community to whom they used to bring solace and tranquillity.’

Mike Seawright, Executive Director of ReliefAid.

Mike Seawright, Executive Director of ReliefAid.

‘Delivering aid in war zones presents many challenges, and while we accept the risks associated with this work it is a complete shock to us when we lose one of our own. Karam’s humanitarian ethos and efforts supported the delivery of life-saving support to over 24,000 people living in East Aleppo, the most war torn city in the world. He represented the very best of Syria, where communities help communities, families help families, and Syrians irrespective of background help one another.’

‘Inspiringly while the death of our friend and work mate has saddened us, and our teams are aware of the risks they face, unanimously and without pause they are continuing our life-saving work. While we face many challenges delivering war zone aid, I am constantly motivated by a team that, even in the face of personal danger and loss, continue to support their communities. Families experience acute needs within the city, and our teams stand ready to assist those in dire need.’

A nationwide ceasefire in Syria, brokered by the United States and Russia, came into effect on Monday evening, with aid agencies preparing to send food and medical supplies to besieged Aleppo. Turkish sources said over thirty aid trucks, under UN supervision, were ready to deliver humanitarian supplies to the city.

‘In a war which is targeting civilians and humanitarian workers on a daily basis we welcome the recent cessation of hostilities. If held, the ‘cease-fire’ will have a positive impact on over one million people living in Aleppo City. On behalf of Syrian families living in what can only be described as ‘hell on earth’ we call on all parties to take up this unique opportunity for peace.’

Moving tributes were also paid by Karam’s work colleagues. They said:

‘He was so kind to me, he would take me to his house to eat cooked food as I am single and don’t know how to cook.’

‘We lose friends every day. This is not the first time but we are feeling so bad. There is no escape, this is our life.’

‘I want only one thing, I want to die in dignity on my ground. I can’t see any more children die in bad ways as the world sits idly by watching.’

ShelterBox has worked with New Zealand-based ReliefAid over a long period, and most recently provided 4,000 aid packages to families in Aleppo. The kits provided are a mix of essentials including water purification equipment, jerry cans, mats, solar lamps, tarpaulins, mosquito nets and kitchen sets.

ShelterBox helping the displaced residents of Darraya, Syria

End of a four year siege. Victims of ‘starvation or surrender’ war zone head towards a displacement camp of ShelterBox UN style tents

Hand In Hand for Syria volunteers unload ShelterBox aid in Idlib

For a gruelling four years, residents of Darraya in the Syrian capital Damascus have lived under siege, with little aid and people starving to death. A new deal is seeing thousands of civilians moved to displacement camps in the south and north, where ShelterBox tents are waiting.

Caught since 2012 between the regime and the rebels, the people of Darraya in Damascus have endured a miserable four years as pawns in a deadly stand-off. An unknown number have died in fighting, bombing, or of malnutrition.

Over the weekend a huge evacuation was triggered by a military deal to cease fighting, which has been characterised as a long running ‘starve or surrender’ strategy. An estimated 8,000 civilians moved by foot and then onto aid buses to uncertain futures in displacement camps either in Sahnaya to the south west, or to Idlib in the north. 

ShelterBox has supplied thirty large UN-style tents and other non-food items to a camp in Idlib Governorate near the Turkish border. Much of this aid was trucked in months ago, and more is queuing at the border. The tents have been delivered and erected by ShelterBox’s in-country partner organisation, London-based Hand in Hand for Syria.

Around fifty green and white buses, eight ambulances and several Red Crescent and UN vehicles stood ready early on Friday waiting for the signal to drive into Darraya. The suburb of Damascus now lies in ruins. Tearful residents said their final goodbyes. This is the hardest moment, everyone is crying, young and old,’ said one resident. The first buses to emerge with evacuees carried mostly children, elderly people and women.

ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Sam Hewett says, The siege of Darraya has been one of the longest-running human tragedies in Syria. Although thousands have left their homes this weekend, they are heading to safer places where there will be food, water and shelter. An exodus on this scale is hard to witness, but at least ShelterBox and Hand in Hand for Syria have been able to provide some comfort for these weary people displaced by war.’

HIHS volunteers unload a truck

United Nation’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien reported to the Security Council earlier this year that the lack of food in Darraya was forcing some people to eat grass, and that residents were burning plastics as fuel. No one will remain here,’ said Hussam Ayash from Darraya.Our condition has deteriorated to the point of being unbearable.’

The UN said it was not involved in negotiating the deal, but that a team will enter Darraya to identify civilian needs. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura says, It is tragic that repeated appeals to lift the siege of Darraya and cease the fighting have never been heeded. He added it is ‘imperative’ that its residents be protected, and evacuated only voluntarily, adding, The world is watching.’

You can help by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

‘We are waiting to die.’ Aleppo aid workers heartfelt plea, ahead of World Humanitarian Day – 19th August

In the week when the UN calls for a more humane world, ShelterBox partner, ReliefAid hears 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

A Syrian mother and her child carry a shelter kit in the streets of Aleppo

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.

New Zealand-based 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 they were distributing the last of a consignment of aid from international 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 in Turkey, and in constant touch with his team in Aleppo. Today 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.’ 

They hit the building beside us, and the effect of that is that we’ve had 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.’           

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.

ShelterBox/Relief Aid shelter kit being distributed in Aleppo

A truck left ShelterBox HQ in Cornwall, UK this morning loaded with aid for Syria – kitchen sets and 980 tarpaulins. It will meet up with another consignment containing 2,000 shelter kits. Another ShelterBox truckload is already en route across Europe with 4,860 tarpaulins.

You can help by donating to our Syria Refugee Appeal here: PLEASE DONATE

Shelterbox Partner, Relief Aid’s Office Bombed In Aleppo

ShelterBox shelter kits being distributed by Relief Aid in Aleppo

 

Just as the distribution of the last of 4,000 kits to Aleppo families had finished, the offices of ShelterBox distribution partner, ReliefAid were wrecked by an air strike. Working in one of the most dangerous places on earth, Aleppo’s aid workers say that time is fast running out. Moving words from an aid worker trapped in the unfolding horror of Aleppo – a city bomb-strewn and besieged. Farid (name changed for security reasons) talks to us directly from the east of the city, and the scene of an air strike on their Aleppo HQ.

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO FILE HERE

Farid says, ‘On the 9 August at 8.00 am, just an hour before starting a new work day, the building next to our office get air strike. Thank God the damage is in the infrastructure, and we move the equipment to a safe place and suspended the work to ensure the safety of the team members.’

Actually we get used to air strikes, bombs and everything in our neighbourhoods, and all of the city. But now the situation is so different. Our work is the only reason to stay in Aleppo and take all the risk. We help our people, we bring clean water to them, we bring blankets to warm them, we bring solar lamps. This is our people, and the reason we stay in Aleppo. But now we are disappointed and shocked.

ShelterBox has provided 4,000 aid packages to families in Aleppo via in-country partners, New Zealand-based ReliefAid. The kits they provide to families are a mix of life-saving essentials including water purification equipment, jerry cans, mats, solar lamps, tarpaulins, mosquito nets and kitchen sets. In recent days the UN has insisted that only 48 hour ceasefires will allow aid to flow again into the surrounded city, which is now mostly without clean water, electricity, fuel for generators or vehicles, with food supplies dwindling and unaffordable.

Aleppo has been under constant siege for more than 4 years ©Voice of America News: Scott Bobb

This week, the United Nations children’s agency warned that children are at ‘grave risk of disease’ unless water supplies are immediately repaired. Healthcare provision is also shattered, with Aleppo doctor Hamza Al-Khatib telling BBC Newsnight that it is ‘a nightmare for medics and for patients.’ Yesterday there were reports of a barrel bomb explosion releasing toxic chlorine gas.

Just before the air strike on ReliefAid’s offices Farid reported, ‘I couldn’t leave my home for four days because the bombing gets so heavy on my neighbourhood. I couldn’t even leave to get any food or water. My situation is similar to 300,000 other people who live in Aleppo, 19,000 of them children under 2 years.’ ‘So many families rely on humanitarian aid, they have no money, and after the (Castello) road closed they have nothing to eat. The security situation is so bad, and the bombing is so heavy. People who will not die from bombing they will start to starve, they will drink unclean water, they will die from lack of medicine and healthcare.’

ShelterBox shelterkits in the Relief Aid warehouse

Just ahead of the air strike Executive Director of ReliefAid, Mike Seawright, reported good news about the last shipment of ShelterBox aid to arrive in the city. ‘I am pleased to announce that we have completed the distribution of the remaining 250 kits to families with special needs within the city. As such all 1,500 summer shelter kits are now in the hands of over 9000 people living within the city.’ ‘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.’

ReliefAid’s brave team has been distributing shelter kits in Aleppo for ShelterBox over the last six months – a total of 4,000 kits able to support over 24,500 people.

You can help by donating to our Syrian Refugee Appeal

‘How long will food and water last?’ Aleppo city now in a stranglehold

ShelterBox is fearful for 300,000 residents completely cut off from aid

 

Aleppo - child with destroyed cityscape background

Aleppo – child with destroyed cityscape background

Syrian Government and rebel forces are locked in conflict over the divided city of Aleppo, with essential aid lifeline the Castello Road now impassable. An estimated 300,000 civilians, 60% of them women and children, are caught in the crossfire with dwindling supplies of food and water.   

In a volatile and fast-changing situation, Syrian rebel fighters are continuing their assault on government-held districts of Aleppo after troops cut their only route into the divided northern city.

Aleppo is now effectively partitioned, with much of the west of the city held by Syrian Government forces, while rebel troops occupy the east. Attempts by rebels to re-open the arterial Castello Road, the only route to the east and the last remaining aid lifeline, have failed.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, says, ‘An estimated 300,000 people residing in eastern Aleppo city depend on the (Castello) road, which allowed the flow of humanitarian supplies, commercial goods, and civilian movement. We continue to receive distressing reports of aerial bombardment and shelling on civilian locations in both western and eastern Aleppo city.’ He has called for the ‘rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave.’ But all exits are now blocked.

Aleppo is Syria’s largest city, its financial and industrial hub. Of enormous historical significance, it is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. Now vast areas lie in ruins, and without utilities and infrastructure much of it is uninhabitable.

Attacks against areas of eastern Aleppo have continued unabated, with civilians indiscriminately killed and injured, and there are warnings of humanitarian workers being targeted. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that, ‘hundreds of mortars and projectiles were launched on western Aleppo. From 8 to 11 July, 57 people were reportedly killed including 15 children and 497 were injured.’

The BBC’s Middle East Analyst Diana Darke describes this as ‘Syria’s end game’ adding that ‘Aleppo is no stranger to sieges – there have been at least eight recorded across its turbulent history. But this one promises to last longer than all the others put together.’ In recent days it has been reported that military targeting of water supply networks is now a daily occurrence. When the water pumping station at Al-Khafsah in Aleppo failed, cutting off water supply to half of the city, there was panic and chaos, with people resorting to drinking from puddles in the streets.

Charity Save the Children says that hospitals and schools are also being attacked, with at least nine medical facilities bombed in the past week in Aleppo and Idlib. It warns that the whole of Northwest Syria is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.

ShelterBox has been providing aid to Aleppo for many months via distributing partner charities – London based Hand in Hand for Syria and New Zealand based ReliefAid. Consignments of 4,000 Shelter Kits, containing a variety of essential items such as jerry cans, mats, solar lamps, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, and water purification equipment, have been delivered by ReliefAid over the last 6 months, 1,500 of them just before the Castello Road closed.

 

Aleppo Relief Aid warehouse

Aleppo Relief Aid warehouse

ShelterBox partners ReliefAid say that there are already fuel shortages in eastern Aleppo, critical because so many people and businesses rely on generators for power.

ReliefAid Executive Director Mike Seawright also noted, ‘In addition the price of food and other basic commodities essential for daily living have sky-rocketed overnight. Families already suffering acute food shortages are left wondering how they will put food on the table.’

ShelterBox Operations Team Lead Alice Jefferson says, ‘We are glad to have been able to place aid very recently into eastern Aleppo via our partners ReliefAid, part of an inward flow over many months. But now with all aid routes cut off it is hard to see what the next step can be.’

‘Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in areas that are being bombarded, and no-one can tell how long essential supplies of food and water will last. ShelterBox and its in-country partners are ready to deploy again as soon as humanitarian access is granted.’

Five years of war in Syria have claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people. Millions have fled the conflict, but nearly 18 million people still live in the war-torn country. The United Nations estimates more than 6 million of them are classed as ‘internally displaced’ after being forced to flee their homes to look for safer places to live. Most have fled the cities to seek shelter in the countryside.

ShelterBox has provided tents, shelter kits, clothing and educational equipment, both inside Aleppo, and in displacement camps within Syria and refugee camps in neighbouring countries including Iraq Kurdistan, Jordan and Lebanon. ShelterBox’s Operations team is monitoring the latest developments, and is in touch with colleague organisations on the ground in Syria.

You can help by donating to our Syria Refugee Appeal

ShelterBox Condemns Kamounia Camp Bombing In Syria

Father and child in a makeshift ambulance in Kamounia

Father and child in a makeshift ambulance in Kamounia

While the UN decides whether to classify an air strike on a makeshift camp for displaced people in northern Syria as a war crime, disaster relief agency ShelterBox condemns the targeting of families on the run from war.

Thursday’s air strike on a makeshift camp for displaced families near the Syria/Turkey border, in which at least 28 people died – many of them women and children – has been condemned as a possible war crime by the UN.

The bombing of the Kamounia camp in the northern Idlib province came only a day after the extension of a ‘partial cessation of hostilities’ truce was confirmed. Reports say the strike on the rebel-held area was by Syrian or Russian planes, but this has not been confirmed.

Stephen O’Brien, head of humanitarian affairs at the UN, has called for an inquiry into the attack. He told the BBC, ‘Be in no doubt that all these terrible acts, wherever they happen and whoever perpetrates them, will not be forgotten and the people who perpetrate them will be held to account.’

The Kamounia camp is in the volatile region of Idlib, only 2.5 miles from the city of Sarmada and within six miles of the Turkish border. ShelterBox has been active in Syria and its neighbouring countries for over four years. Operations Co-ordinator Sam Hewett was recently in Turkey overseeing ShelterBox aid operations with in-country partners ReliefAid and Hand in Hand for Syria.

Sam says, ‘Sarmada is very close to the Turkish border and a large number of people have moved to this area because it was meant to be less at risk of this type of attack. These are large camps, and obviously not military in nature.’

‘Our partners have undertaken distributions of ShelterBox aid as part of the Sarmada camp cluster. I do not know if any of the households that we have directly supported have been affected by this air strike, and it would be very difficult to find out.’

ShelterBox Interim Chief Executive Chris Warham adds, ‘It is the most inhuman act to use women and children fleeing war as military targets. This shocking event can only fuel the desperation of thousands more families to head for the border, and the perceived safety of refugee status. Those in Kamouna, as in other Syrian camps, are classified as internally displaced persons rather than refugees, so have less protection under international law.’

 

 

ShelterBox Providing Comfort To Children Living Through Conflict In Syria

Close-up portrait of young Syrian girl

A child in Idlib province, where we are partnering with Hand in Hand for Syria to provide tents for shelter and for classrooms. (Credit Hand in Hand for Syria).

 

Five years after the conflict in Syria first broke out, there are now 6 million children in need of humanitarian assistance. Thousands have died, many more live under siege with precious little food, and almost half of those in need have had to leave their homes.

We have been supporting people affected by the crisis since 2012, not only in Syria itself but in surrounding countries such as Iraq as well as Greece. In the midst of this conflict, we are painfully aware that children are some of the hardest hit – many will remember nothing else than the fighting.

Recently, our partners Hand in Hand for Syria found a whole classroom of children having lessons in an underground cave in the province of Idlib.

In this video, the team from Hand in Hand for Syria asks the teachers and children what it’s like working in a cave, and what supplies they need to help their lessons. Incredibly, they don’t ask for a proper school with desks and a playground, but simply for schoolbags and textbooks.

Together with Hand in Hand for Syria, we have set up large UN specification tents in Idlib province, some of which will be used as classrooms so that children will have somewhere light and ventilated to learn.

Sam Hewett, ShelterBox Operations Coordinator, said: ‘Some of the tents we’ve provided are going to be used as classrooms, so that they don’t have to learn underground. This is just one example of the extreme conditions people are living in.’

In the winter, we worked with ReliefAid, another of our partners, to provide warm coats, hats, gloves and scarves to protect people from the bitter cold. These were not only distributed along with shelter kits to families that needed to weatherproof damaged houses, but to schools and orphanages in the city of Aleppo too.

Sam said: ‘‘It is distressing to think of children living in these awful conditions, often without safe shelter, heating, even basic food and sanitation. Our partner agencies are doing great work delivering aid in difficult and dangerous territory.

‘It is so uplifting to see images of children receiving these items, showing moments of happiness as ShelterBox clothing is given to these most deserving children.’

 

Syrian children wrapped in fleece coats, hats, gloves and scarves

Children in schools and orphanages from Aleppo, Syria receive warm clothes during the bitter winter weather. (Credit ReliefAid)

 

As the conflict moves on into its sixth year, ShelterBox is continuing to support the families caught up in the crisis. Working with partners such as Hand in Hand for Syria and ReliefAid, we are reaching people displaced by the fighting and those trapped by it.

In Aleppo, which is currently under siege as opposing forces fight for control of the ancient city, we have just finished distributing winterised shelter kits, comprising mattresses, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, solar lights and water carriers.

For the families unable to leave the city, these kits are providing materials to repair damaged buildings and make shelters warm and more comfortable. Solar lamps bring a source of light to a city without electricity and water carriers are enabling people to collect and transport water from safe sources.

However, there is no end in sight for the conflict. There are still thousands of families in need of shelter and we need your help to reach them. Please donate today.

 

Trapped At The Turkish Border – ShelterBox Sends More Aid

Bomb damage in Aleppo

Fighting in Aleppo, Syria causes thousands to flee to the Turkish border

 

Thousands of Syrian families are trapped at the Turkish border as they struggle to escape the front line of fighting. Many have young children to look after and nothing to protect them from the elements.

In the past few days, up to 70,000 people have fled Aleppo, Syria’s second city, as the regime pushes forward through northern Syria. With fighters on the ground supported by airstrikes, nowhere is safe and few buildings are still intact.

There is no clear route to safety, as the border crossing into Turkey at Bab al Salam is closed. Trapped between the encroaching army and a closed border, families have had no choice but to sleep outside in temperatures as low as -5°C.

We are determined to provide warmth and shelter for these families and a ShelterBox response team is currently based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep to identify how we can best we can support them.

ShelterBox operations coordinator Sam Hewett said: ‘These people have suffered enough, fleeing their homes due to warfare, and they deserve all our efforts to provide them with shelter, food, healthcare and safety.’

The team is working with long-term partners Hand in Hand for Syria to deliver the vital aid. Ahead of the arrival of sturdy, durable tents, the team is sourcing emergency kits to distribute to families. These kits contain blankets, mattresses and tarpaulins to protect people from exposure to the freezing conditions.

Around 4.6 million people have fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011, and another 13.5 million are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country. The majority of people have fled to the bordering countries of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In Lebanon, a quarter of its inhabitants are now Syrian refugees.

ShelterBox has been supporting families displaced by Syria, both in the country and elsewhere, since 2012. Working with a range of partners in Syria, we have distributed a variety of essential items from tents and shelter kits, to thick blankets and cold-weather clothing for children. In the past year, we have been supporting refugee camps in Iraq and providing temporary respite for families arriving in Greece before continuing their journey onwards into Europe.

A donation of $120 will buy an emergency kit containing blankets, mattresses and tarpaulins for a family. By donating now, you can prevent another night of freezing winter conditions to people exhausted by war.

As The Vienna Talks Begin, ShelterBox And Its Partners Continue To Reach Out To Displaced Families In Syria

Young Syrian boy holding a ShelterBox sign in from of tent

© Violet Organisation

 

Of all the families on the refugee trail these are the hardest to reach, and the hardest to help – Syria’s internally displaced, people caught in the crossfire within their own country. But aid is getting through, as ShelterBox and its partners deliver with determination.

The world watches hopefully as talks begin in Vienna, bringing to the table the power-brokers who are backing rival sides in Syria’s civil war. The aim is to close the gap between the US and its allies, who support the rebels, and the key foreign allies of the Syrian government, Russia and Iran. This is the first time that Iran has been involved in diplomatic moves towards conflict resolution.

Four years of war in Syria have left a quarter of a million dead, and forced half the country’s population – around 11 million people – from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of them now live under canvas in fast-growing encampments, mostly in the north of the country.

ShelterBox has been working across Syria and its geographical neighbours all this time, helping refugees and displaced families in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan and well into Syria itself. Getting aid into this volatile war zone has meant very careful negotiation of so-called ‘aid pipelines’, the discreet movement, distribution and allocation of equipment, and effective in-country partners who can operate cautiously in hostile conditions using their local knowledge.

Among these are London-based Hand in Hand for Syria (HIHS) who were the first to take humanitarian aid into Syria shortly after the conflict began in 2011. HIHS and ShelterBox have supported newly displaced people in northern Syria for over two years, and even managed to deliver school equipment into war-torn Aleppo. A new shipment of aid for a further 1,000 families is now being dispatched.

ShelterBox’s newest partner is the Violet Organisation, a Syrian non-governmental organisation  shown in the photos accompanying this press release. 350 large UN specification tents and tarpaulins have been transported to Syria, bound for distribution in camps.

Volunteers from the Violet organisation erect tents donated by ShelterBox

© Violet Organisation

200 UN tents supplied by ShelterBox have also just been distributed by theInternational Organisation for Migration (IOM), mostly to replace those damaged by time and climate over the years of conflict.

Operations Co-ordinator Sam Hewett has recently returned from the Iraq / Syria border territories, where he and ShelterBox colleagues were assessing conditions in many long-established refugee camps, and helping to plan new provision for Iraq’s own internally-displaced population.

Sam says, ‘ShelterBox gives you a global perspective on the refugee crisis – from its origins within Syria, to border territories such as Iraq and Lebanon, and on into Europe where we were recently providing respite for thousands of families arriving on the Greek islands.’

‘At every stage these are stories of great hardship and desperation. The scale of it can overwhelm, so we focus on what is achievable, and where the aid provided by our generous donors can help best. As these photos show, our in-country partners make it possible for ShelterBox to reach those trapped within Syria, whose lives are uncomfortable, uncertain and unsafe.’

Air strikes across Syria have intensified in the last month as the Russians have flexed their air power. The UN says 120,000 people fled from Aleppo, Hama, and Idlib provinces between 5 and 22 October, the places where most Russian bombing has taken place and where Syrian Army ground pushes have occurred. The Russians claim that no civilians have been killed, but they have been using cluster munitions that western air forces shun for their indiscriminate effect.  

It is estimated that almost half of Syria’s population has now been displaced, but that six million of them remain within Syria’s borders. Only those who cross borders are classed as refugees, and therefore entitled to the support of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The internally displaced do not enjoy even that status.

You can help by donating to our Syria Refugee Appeal here: PLEASE DONATE

 

ShelterBox Provides Tents For Migrant Crisis in Greece

Young Syrian refugee on the Greek island of Lesbos

Kara Tepe Camp on a hillside outside the main port of Mytilene. ©Rachel Harvey, ShelterBox

 

As Greece buckles under its own economic pressures, it is also under stress from a growing external pressure. Every day boatloads of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan arrive from Turkey on islands such as Lesbos. ShelterBox is sending tents to help in overwhelmed transit camps.

It is a short three mile sea journey from the coast of Turkey to the island of Lesbos. But this proximity has made it a stepping stone on a journey of despair. Some days as many as 2,000 migrants arrive in small vessels on the island’s northern beaches. Most are fleeing war in Syria and Afghanistan, with hopes of heading further into Western Europe.

For these families any sense of relief at finally setting foot on European soil is soon crushed by a stark reality. Transit camps on Lesbos and its neighbouring Aegean islands are now overwhelmed, many becoming squalid. Greece, absorbed with its own problems, is ill-equipped to deal with this influx. Its government is nearly broke, local services – where they exist – are struggling, and one person in every four is unemployed.   

Lesbos, third largest of the Greek islands, is still a popular tourist destination. It has only 86,000 residents. But although up to 3,000 holidaymakers a month fly into Mytilene Airport, that traffic is now eclipsed by seaborne migrant arrivals that exceeded 107,000 last month. The UN says that more migrants landed on the island in June than in the whole of the previous year.

Disgarded lifejackets in a bin on the island of Lesbos

Disgarded lifejackets in a bin on the island of Lesbos

On Lesbos, as on nearby Kos, residents and tourists are doing what they can to help, many providing clothing or food. But occasionally tempers run high. Last week migrants on Kos clashed with police in the long, hot queues to obtain registration papers. Migration from Turkey into Greece is now on a larger scale than to the southern Italian islands from Tunisia, or to mainland Spain from Morocco at the mouth of the Mediterranean. It is only the closeness of the Aegean islands to Turkey’s coast that has prevented multiple sea tragedies, most making it to shore on flimsy rubber dinghies provided by people-traffickers, with instructions to  slash them on arrival so they can’t be used again.  

International disaster relief charity ShelterBox has had a team on Lesbos island over recent weeks assessing needs and talking to local officials about how it can help. Now, later this week, a second team will return to oversee the distribution of 100 tents across the islands, with 70 of these allocated to Lesbos. Here they will be allocated to create a new site, and to ease pressures on the existing camps. But ShelterBox is also looking to neighbouring islands.

Response team volunteer Rachel Harvey was part of the original ShelterBox team, and gives this eyewitness reaction. The situation on Lesbos is unlike most other humanitarian crises in that the population needing help is transitory, only staying for as long as it takes to get the necessary papers allowing onward travel.’

More than 107,000 migrants arrived on Lesbos ls June, more than the previous 12 months put together

More than 107,000 migrants arrived on Lesbos ls June, more than the previous 12 months put together

 

‘Hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, arrive on the island in overfull dinghies every day. They are exhausted, often traumatised by recent experiences, and frequently confused about what to do next. Very few want to remain in Greece – Lesbos is simply the geographic gateway to the EU. But while they wait they need somewhere safe to stay. The authorities on Lesbos are doing what they can, but by its own admission the local municipality is ill-equipped to manage a crisis on this scale.’

 

‘Conditions in the two main reception camps have improved – thanks to the efforts of international agencies working with local officials. But the existing tents, provided by Lesbos’s Civilian Protection Force, weren’t designed for constant use over a period of months, and have fallen into disrepair. Ground sheets are soiled, guy ropes knotted and frayed, fly sheets torn.  Some people arrive too late to get a space inside even these meagre shelters, and end up sleeping out in the open. People are visibly shocked by the situation in which they find themselves. One asked me for more bin bags so that he could try to collect some of the festering rubbish that keeps piling up in the corners of the overcrowded camp.’

 

This week ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett and Response Team member Jennifer Butte-Dahl are travelling to Lesbos to work alongside local government and UN refugee experts overseeing aid across the Greek islands.

ShelterBox CEO Alison Wallace says, ‘What a desperate situation, both for the travel-weary migrant families, and for their reluctant hosts. Even if systems were in good shape, it is hard to see how Greek officials could process the numbers that keep arriving every day, and provide shelter and basic provisions for an unforeseeable number of people. Whatever pressures or fears have brought them to these shores, and wherever they are bound next, we will make sure as many as possible get some respite in our tents and from our colleague charities.’