A quarter of a million Syrian children living under siege: Report

A quarter of a million Syrian children living under siege: Report

BEIRUT – Agence France-Presse
A quarter of a million Syrian children living under siege: Report

AP Photo

At least 250,000 Syrian children are living under siege, with many forced to eat animal feed or leaves to survive, where less than 1 percent of people had received United Nations food last year and only 3 percent received health assistance, Save the Children said March 9, as the war’s fifth anniversary looms.

“There are regularly stories of children dying because they couldn’t get the emergency aid and medical care that they needed,” Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s regional Syria director, told reporters. 

According to the United Nations, some 486,700 people live in besieged areas - 274,200 people in areas besieged by the government, 200,000 in areas besieged by Islamic State and 12,500 people in areas besieged by opposition groups. 

“They and their families are cut off from the outside world, surrounded by warring groups that illegally use siege against civilians as a weapon of war,” the charity said in a report.

“At least a quarter of a million children are living under brutal siege in areas of Syria that have effectively been turned into open-air prisons,” it added.

With doctors operating without electricity and “sick children dying while the medicine they need is on the other side of a checkpoint,” the report paints a grim picture based on the testimonies of families, aid workers, medics and teachers in besieged areas.

Doctors working in a rebel bastion east of Damascus have seen children die from preventable diseases.

“Some deaths resulted from malnutrition and others from the lack of medications and vaccines. Children here have died of rabies because the vaccine was not available,” said one only identified as Dr Nizar.

Obstetric care is often non-existent in besieged areas like in the north of Homs province.

“Many deaths have happened due to bleeding and the inability to perform surgery, as births occurred at home without the help of midwives,” said Amira, a mother in the battered province.

“There are no incubators available for newborn children. Infants have died as a result,” said Aboud, a health worker near Damascus.

Food is in short supply in besieged towns across Syria, with some areas completely cut off, leaving children with nothing to eat but animal feed or grass.

“When we didn’t find food, we were eating grass. I used to lie to my children and tell them that the grass is edible. But who am I kidding? The grass wasn’t edible,” said Hassan, a father from Deir Ezzor near Iraq.

Many families interviewed by Save the Children said they were sometimes unable to eat even once a day.

“Since the siege began I’ve lost a third of my weight,” said Marwan, a boy living under siege east of Damascus.

Instead of fleeing aerial bombings throughout winter, besieged Syrian children ran towards devastated buildings to search for broken furniture that could fuel fires for warmth and cooking, said a Syrian aid worker as the country marks five years of war. 

The aid worker - who spoke on condition of anonymity because her group was operating without Syrian government approval - said despite the dangers of unexploded devices or further bombs the children still ran toward the sites of attacks. 

“We’ve seen a lot of children ... running to collect the furniture,” she said, according to Reuters. “They wanted to use the wood in heating and cooking.”