Thousands begin returning to east Aleppo

Aleppo children hold up UN-provided food

ALEPPO - Despite bitterly cold weather and devastating destruction, thousands of Syrians are beginning to return to recently recaptured east Aleppo, a UN official told Reuters.
Against the UN’s advice, around 2,200 families have returned to the Hanano district, said Sajjad Malik, country representative in Syria for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“People are coming out to east Aleppo to see their shops, their houses, to see if the building is standing and the house is not that looted … to see, should they come back,” Malik told an interviewer.
Hanano was one of the first Aleppo districts to fall to rebels in 2012 and the first to be recaptured by Syrian forces last month.
The UN is helping people reestablish themselves by supplying mats, sleeping bags and plastic sheets to cover broken windows, as aid continues to be vital for returnees’ survival amidst appalling conditions.
“It is extremely, bitterly cold here,” said Malik. “The houses people are going back to have no windows or doors, no cooking facilities.”
UN partners provide 21,000 people with hot meals twice a day and 40,000 with bread every day.
Other aid includes the set up of mobile clinics that have provided 10,000 children with polio vaccinations.
Thousands more kids are also being reintegrated into the school system through remedial classes, whilst the UN is working to issue people with birth, death and marriage papers that were unattainable under rebel control.
“I met a woman with five children and she was excited that she now has her kids registered as Syrians. She has ID cards and a family book,” Malik said.
However, reconstruction will take a long time after months of Syrian and Russia air strikes.
Malik is an experienced UN official, yet the level of destruction surpassed anything he had witnessed in other conflict zones like Afghanistan and Somalia.
“Nothing would have prepared us to see the scale of destruction there, it’s beyond imagination.”