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Aleppo – a look behind the numbers

Frontline humanitarian workers capture the heartache and hopes of the recently displaced in and around Aleppo.

With so much attention on the numbers of people fleeing fighting, UNHCR staff and partners on the ground share a rare glimpse into the lives of those desperately seeking safety.

After months living under besiegement, thousands of east Aleppo residents crossed the line of fire to find safety. Families arriving were exhausted and traumatized.

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Namaa's outreach volunteers are in the Mahalej shelter ready to welcome newly arriving families. New arrivals have complex needs, but are welcomed with a helping hand.

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Insufficient and inadequate shelter space continues to be one of the most pressing humanitarian needs on the ground. We are upgrading shelters and boosting capacity to respond to the growing needs.

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Families are gradually being moved out of large shelter halls into more private spaces.

Families arriving from East Aleppo to Mahalej shelter

Upon arrival, volunteers are welcoming the children with a Psychological First Aid (PSA) session as an ice breaker and to help the arriving children adjust to the new environment.

Aleppo, a once thriving city, witnessed ferocious fighting. The UN had no direct access to the besieged east of the city for five months.

UNHCR winter assistant help prepare rooms in damaged buildings

The level of destruction in Hanano neighbourhoods was shocking. “There’s a lot more damage than meets the eye” expressed Mustafa, our Senior Protection Assistant in Aleppo.

UNHCR winter assistant help prepare rooms in damaged buildings

Urgent winter assistance is designed to provide warmth to displaced people who are temporarily taking shelter in damaged buildings in Hanano neighbourhood. As temperature drops, already difficult living conditions are getting harder for people in Aleppo.

UNHCR winter assistant help prepare rooms in damaged buildings

December 2, a joint UN team visited Hanano and surrounding neighbourhoods to assess people’s humanitarian needs. Buildings were heavily damaged and inadequate for shelter, especially in winter.

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In emergency situations, there’s only time for quick meetings between colleagues to share updates and plan. The rest of the time is spent in the field, addressing the urgent needs of those who have had to flee their homes.

UNHCR and partners on the ground provide protection services, including psychological counselling. Many of those arriving are deeply traumatized, including children.

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Our colleague Reem noticed this child was holding a broken camera, so she asked the little photographer to take a selfie with her and he happily accepted.

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Psychological counselling and recreational activities are being provided – many children who have arrived are deeply traumatized.

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Face painting is very popular among children. As described by one of Al-Taalouf's Reach Out Volunteers, this 4-year-old, displaced from East Aleppo, took it very seriously as they applied it on her face!

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Young Syrian displaced children from East Aleppo enjoy recreational activities The 4-year old’s eyes sparkled as she had her face painted by a volunteer. “I can’t wait to show it to my mother!”.

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Are you here for the recreational activity? I wait for it everyday.” Said the 5 year-old to our colleagues during their monitoring visit to Mahalej shelter.

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After living under the shadow of war for six years, children relish a chance to be children. "Their wonderful spirit renders me speechless", said an outreach volunteer.

Insufficient and inadequate shelter space continues to be one of the most pressing humanitarian needs on the ground, especially in the cold weather.

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On December 10 and 11, an estimated 6,750 newly displaced persons arrived from east Aleppo to the Mahalej transitional shelter. New arrivals line up to register their names in order to receive much needed humanitarian support.

We are working with partners to quickly rehabilitate structures to boost shelter capacity and secure a warm, safe place for the displaced families.

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Insufficient and inadequate shelter space continues to be one of the most pressing humanitarian needs on the ground. We are upgrading shelters and boosting capacity to respond to the growing needs.

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UNHCR and partners are working around the clock to meet the urgent need for shelter. Due to extremely cold weather, many families ask to move in even if the space is unfinished.

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UNHCR check on families - mostly from the Salheen neighbourhood – who have been in the shelter for five days. They have all received vital winter items and are receiving 2 hot meals a day.

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Our colleague Afran met this 4-year-old child in the Mahalej shelter. The child currently lives alongside 17 other family members in one shelter space.

UNHCR and its partners are scaling up their humanitarian response in Aleppo to meet the needs of the newly displaced, as well as those previously displaced in western Aleppo. Alongside food, water and protection services, one of the most pressing humanitarian needs is finding secure shelter for the newly displaced.

Image and words by Shaza Shekfeh and Mustafa Rihawi. Story originally published on unhcr.org