Tens of thousands still remain trapped in Syria’s Douma

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UN Refugee Agency warns about blockage of humanitarian access to Eastern Ghouta, citing escalating humanitarian needs

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday warned of the worsening situation in Syria’s besieged Eastern Ghouta, where tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday at the UN headquarters in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said: “We estimate that more than 133,000 people have fled Eastern Ghouta over the past four weeks.

“Of particular concern is the situation in Douma in Eastern Ghouta, where tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped.”

Mahecic also said the UN still had no humanitarian access to Eastern Ghouta to deliver aid.

He also appealed to all parties to the conflict for proper protection of civilians, including freedom of movement and free choice over where to stay.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday proposed a visit of international experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to probe the incident in Douma. He said such a visit would prove the Syrian military had not used chemical weapons.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Fadela Chaib said WHO had received “unverified information” of Syrian men, women and children suffering from respiratory failure after alleged chemical exposure in Douma, the site of the alleged attack at the weekend.

Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said, “We are not in Douma; Eastern Ghouta is still under siege. Occasionally we are able to go in with a convoy and we leave again immediately.”

Speaking at the UN headquarters in Geneva, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Muzoon Almellehan, said, “Every child, every single child who is out of Syria right now — we need them to have an education to go and rebuild our country one day. This is my biggest dream.”

She also praised Turkey’s efforts for Syrian refugees.

Almellehan, a 19-year-old education activist and Syrian refugee, is the youngest Goodwill Ambassador. She is the first person with an official refugee status as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNICEF.

On Feb. 24, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2401, which called for a month-long cease-fire in Syria — especially in Eastern Ghouta — to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Despite the resolution, the Assad regime last month launched a major ground offensive — backed by Russia — aimed at capturing Eastern Ghouta’s last opposition strongholds.

Home to some hundreds of thousands people, the district has remained the target of a crippling regime siege for the last five years that has rendered the delivery of humanitarian supplies almost impossible.

Last month, a UN commission of inquiry released a report accusing the regime of committing war crimes in Eastern Ghouta, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

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