More than 1 million are trapped in besieged areas in Syria: UN report

NEW YORK - More than one million Syrians are trapped in besieged areas, a new report says in a challenge to the United Nations, which estimates just half that amount and has been accused by some aid groups of underplaying a crisis.

See Full Article

The fate of Syria's besieged is at the heart of peace talks that quickly fell apart last week in Geneva and are set to resume by Feb. 25. Negotiators for the opposition had insisted that the Syrian government stop besieging civilians before talks could truly begin.

The new Siege Watch report, issued Tuesday by the Netherlands-based aid group PAX and the Washington-based Syria Institute, comes a month after images posted online of emaciated children and adults led to an international outcry and rare convoys of aid to a handful of Syrian communities.

The town featured in the images, Madaya, was not listed by the UN as a besieged community at the time. Aid workers who entered last month reported seeing skeletal people and parents who gave their children sleeping pills to calm their hunger.

The Siege Watch report says 1.09 million people are living in 46 besieged communities in Syria, far more than the 18 listed by the UN It says most are besieged by the Syrian government in the suburbs of Damascus, the capital, and Homs. In the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, about 200,000 people are besieged by both the Islamic State group and the Syrian government. The report lists two communities besieged by armed opposition groups.

"Electricity and running water are usually cut off, and there is limited (if any) access to food, fuel, and medical care," the report says. Deaths have been reported from malnutrition, disease, hypothermia and poisoning while scavenging for food. Some communities have been besieged for months or years.

The estimates are based largely on information provided by local contacts in the communities, including local councils, medical workers and citizen journalists.

With the spotlight on the besieged, the United Nations last month raised its estimate by almost 100,000, saying that 486,700 people are affected.

That's still less than some aid groups and others estimate. They argue that the world body's numbers set the tone for humanitarian response efforts and that more urgency is needed.

"Many remain unaware of the extent of the crisis, and the international response has been muted as a result," the Siege Watch report says.

In meetings this week with UN officials and member states, PAX says it will call for the immediate lifting of sieges as a way to build confidence in the peace talks. Syria Institute executive director Valerie Szybala said the new report has not been shared with Syria's government.

The UN says it considers an area besieged if three criteria are met: The area is surrounded by "armed actors," humanitarian aid cannot regularly enter, and civilians, including the sick and wounded, cannot enter and exit.

"Of course, differences of opinion do occur," Amanda Pitt, a UN humanitarian spokeswoman, said of criticism of the UN's estimates.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders goes well beyond the figure in the Siege Watch report, estimating that 1.9 million Syrians live in besieged areas.

Doctors Without Borders said it defines Syria's besieged areas as ones "that are surrounded by strategic barriers (military or non-military) that prevent the regular and safe inflow of humanitarian assistance and the regular and safe outflow of civilians, the wounded and the sick."

The United Nations places an estimated 4.5 million Syrians into a separate category called "hard to reach," a step below besieged. It defines that as "an area that is not regularly accessible to humanitarian actors for the purpose of sustained humanitarian programming as a result of denial of access."

Doctors Without Borders said it doesn't use that distinction, "as the medical consequences for both types of region are similar." Medical supplies are almost never allowed in, it said, and medical evacuations are rarely allowed out.

The aid group has said that since convoys reached Madaya last month, at least 16 people there have died and at least 33 were in danger of dying of malnutrition.

The United Nations now considers the town of 20,000 besieged.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • For many, Canada 150 celebrations pale in comparison to nostalgia of Expo 67

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Dominic Ardonato doesn't see much reason to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. The retired high school teacher complains about a disappointing economy, racial divides, and political squabbles that dominate his life in Montreal. Source
  • See the view from CN Tower’s new floor-to-ceiling 'window walls'

    Canada News CTV News
    At nearly 41 years old, the CN Tower is making a very sensible, middle-aged adjustment: it's getting transition lenses. The iconic structure in the heart of Toronto has revealed a major renovation on its viewing deck, where two self-tinting, floor-to-ceiling window walls were just unveiled. Source
  • Poor English may have caused horrific bungee-jumping death in Spain

    World News Toronto Sun
    MADRID — A Spanish court says a bungee jumping instructor’s poor English may have led a 17-year-old Dutch woman to jump to her death without being connected by rope to a viaduct in northern Spain two years ago. Source
  • Trump takes another swipe at CNN following resignations

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump used the resignations of three CNN journalists involved in a retracted Russia-related story to resume his attack on the network's credibility Tuesday. The story was about a supposed investigation into a pre-inaugural meeting between a Trump associate and the head of a Russian investment fund. Source
  • These senators will make or break the GOP's health care push

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign promise to repeal and replace "Obamacare" is now in the hands of a key group of GOP senators who are opposing --or not yet supporting -- legislation Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing to bring to a vote this week. Source
  • Legal limbo: Massive backlog leaves asylum seekers in for a long wait

    Canada News CTV News
    The U.S. travel ban could mean more asylum seekers claiming refugee status in Canada but new figures show they’d be in for a long wait; the Immigration and Refugee Board says a massive backlog has left tens of thousands in legal limbo. Source
  • Syria denies U.S. allegations of coming chemical attack

    World News CTV News
    BEIRUT -- The Syrian government on Tuesday dismissed White House allegations that it was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, as activists reported an airstrike on an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria that they said killed more than 40 prisoners. Source
  • 'Now jump' or 'no jump'? Poor English may have caused bungee-jumping death

    World News CTV News
    MADRID -- A Spanish court says a bungee jumping instructor's poor English may have led a 17-year-old Dutch woman to jump to her death without being connected by rope to a viaduct in northern Spain two years ago. Source
  • Appeals Court upholds ruling that Dutch peacekeepers partly liable in Srebrenica

    World News CBC News
    A Dutch Appeals Court on Tuesday has confirmed the Netherlands was partly liable for the deaths of some 300 Muslim men who were expelled from a Dutch UN base after the surrounding area was overrun by Bosnian Serb troops. Source
  • Names of man, 2 children, killed in Mississauga crash released

    Canada News CTV News
    MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Peel Region police have released the names of a man and two boys who died in a head-on crash late Sunday night in Mississauga. Police say the crash occurred when the driver of a southbound Mazda on Winston Churchill Blvd. Source