The United Nations refugee agency has reached the opposition-held northern Syrian town of Azaz for the first time, where it found an estimated 45,000 displaced people living in “appalling” conditions in makeshift camps.
“This is an area that the UN has not been able to physically reach ever since the beginning of the conflict,” Yacoub El Hillo, director of the UNHCR’s Middle East and North Africa Bureau, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
Azaz is located opposite the Kilis camp on the Turkish side of the border, which holds about 10,000 Syrian refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“On this [Syrian] side it is makeshift camps in appalling conditions. So hopefully this will be the first of many, many convoys that we will be operating,” Hillo said.
The Syrian government does not usually allow UN agencies to enter rebel-held areas from across its borders, but aid agencies including Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have been active in the Azaz region where temperatures are now sub-zero, he said.
“They want us to continue, it could not have happened without the Syrian government. For the planes to land near Latakia we had to have landing permits and also for the trucks to move,” El Hillo said.
UNHCR said eight trucks delivered 15,000 blankets and 2,000 tents this week, its first winter emergency relief, to more than 10,000 people.
Meanwhile, in the central province of Homs, the UN children’s agency said 420,000 people – half of them children – need immediate help in Syria’s Homs.
Marixie Mercado, a UNICEF spokesperson, said the agency will now try to reach as many of those people as possible.
She told reporters in Geneva on Friday that 200 of 1,500 schools in Homs were damaged by Syria’s 22-month-old civil war, while another 65 schools shelter children and families.