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Syria: Untold numbers of people missing or detained

30-09-2013 Operational Update

Untold numbers of people in Syria are suffering terribly from the uncertainty concerning the fate of loved ones who have gone missing, or who have been kidnapped or detained, as a result of the conflict.


©Reuters. Syrian women hold up pictures of missing relatives

 

"I don't know anything about what happened to him," said Laila of her husband, who went missing in Aleppo more than a year ago. "I don't even know if he is dead or alive. I lie sleepless at night thinking of him – hoping he has a roof above his head if he's alive and hoping his body has been laid to rest if not."

Under customary international humanitarian law, the parties to the conflict must take all feasible measures to account for people reported missing as a result of armed conflict and must provide their families with any information they have on their fate. To enable identification of the dead, the parties to the conflict must also record all available information prior to disposing of bodies and must mark the location of the graves. In addition, all those detained or held captive must be enabled to give news of a strictly personal nature to members of their families wherever they may be.

"With no information about their loved ones, people carry a heavy emotional burden," said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Syria. "The uncertainty they face adds to their hardship and causes psychological distress and suffering."

A central part of the ICRC's work in Syria consists in helping people locate their loved ones and in restoring contact between family members who have been separated from one another. "We submit regular requests to the Syrian authorities for information on the whereabouts of people believed to be detained or missing. We also submitted similar requests to some of the armed opposition groups," said Mr Barth. "This is a very important part of our work in Syria that we want more people to know about, so that they can seek our help."

Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC has received just over 1,000 requests from people seeking help finding out what happened to relatives who have gone missing in Syria. Of these, the overwhelming majority (more than 800) were believed to be detained. These requests remain undoubtedly only a fraction of all cases where families are seeking information on relatives presumed to be detained.

In addition to these activities, the ICRC has continued work on its many water projects in the country and deliveries of food and medical supplies throughout Syria.

Homs. An ICRC engineer examines the condition of a pump at the water station.  

Homs. An ICRC engineer examines the condition of a pump at the water station.
© ICRC / E. Almasri

Water and sanitation

During the month of September, the ICRC

  • saw to it that 1.5 million people in Hama had access to clean drinking water despite damage inflicted on the pipelines carrying water from Qusayr water station in Homs, which Hama governorate depends on for its water needs;
  • organized the collection of rubbish from Jisr al Hajj in East Aleppo in order to improve sanitary conditions for half a million people;
  • continued spraying insecticides in Aleppo for the city's population of over three million;
  • provided water boards in all governorates with technical expertise, equipment, and supplies such as pumps and generators;
  • continued to upgrade water, housing and sanitary facilities at more than 23 public sites in eight governorates hosting nearly 4,800 displaced people, while completing work at another 29 sites in eight governorates hosting around 5,800 displaced people;
  • continued to deliver water for 107,000 people in Homs, Rural Damascus and Deir Ezzor. A total of 5,300 water bottles were also distributed in Hama and Rural Damascus.
Talibseh. Homs. A displaced little girl stocks up on water from an ICRC water truck.  

Talbiseh. Homs. A displaced little girl stocks up on water from an ICRC water truck.
© ICRC / E. Almasri

Assistance

In September, the ICRC:

  • supplied food parcels to more than 320,000 people in Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Homs, Tartous, Lattakia, Sweida, Dara'a, Rural Damascus, Idlib and Deir Ezzor;
  • provided mattresses and blankets for 108,000 people in Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Homs, Lattakia, Sweida, Rural Damascus and Deir Ezzor;
  • supplied kitchen sets (cooking pots, plates, cups and cutlery) for more than 41,250 people in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Lattakia, Rural Damascus and Deir Ezzor;
  • supplied hygiene products such as shampoos, soaps, washing detergents and female hygiene items to nearly 140,000 people in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Lattakia, Sweida, Rural Damascus, Idlib and Deir Ezzor.
Tartous. A displaced woman seeks medical advice in an ICRC donated mobile health clinic.  

Tartous. A displaced woman seeks medical advice in an ICRC donated mobile health clinic.
© ICRC / T. Thorhauge

Meanwhile, the ICRC carried out the following health activities in Syria:

  • donated 50 wheelchairs in addition to anaesthesia drugs, burns medications and medical supplies for the surgical treatment of 150 patients in Atareb in Rural Aleppo. The exact same medical assistance was also donated to several health structures in western Aleppo.  
  • visited the national hospital in Quneitra, to which it donated infusions for the treatment of 200 patients;
  • visited Salamiyeh hospital and donated medical supplies for the surgical treatment of 50 wounded people;
  • visited the Aga Khan Foundation in Salamiyeh and donated dressing material;
  • donated medical supplies for the surgical treatment of 150 wounded people to the Palestinian Red Crescent in Damascus, for further distribution to Yafo Hospital in Damascus, Palestine Hospital in Yarmouk and Bisan Hospital in Homs;
  • donated infusions for the treatment of 7,500 patients to the Ministry of Health.

For further information, please contact:
Rima Kamal, ICRC Damascus, tel: +963 930 33 67 18 or +963 11 331 0476
Alexis Heeb, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 37 72 or +41 79 218 76 10 - twitter @AHeebICRC