UN agency warning over Syrian refugees

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The United Nations refugee agency said yesterday it had reached an opposition-held area of north Syria for the first time and found about 45,000 displaced people living in appalling conditions.

A senior UN official voiced fears that other parts of the country might contain similar untold stories of suffering and said Syria faced systematic destruction. The Syrian government agreed to give the UN access to the zone of Azaz, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, enabling a convoy to deliver tents and blankets to needy people living in the open in sub-zero temperatures.

“This is an area that the UN has not been able to physically reach ever since the beginning of the conflict,” said Yacoub El Hillo, director of UNHCR’s Middle East and North Africa Bureau.

Mr El Hillo, who was in Syria last week, added: “It is an appalling situation in Syria today. Probably all these figures are not capturing the true story of how Syria – the people, but also the country – are facing systematic destruction.”

UN supplies including food have reached Azaz, “a very far corner of the country” in the north-west from time to time, but via partner agencies and not UN staff. “People have been stranded, cut off without any systematic aid,” he said.