Families and children in Madaya are starving. Photographer: Abeer Pamuk
January 15 2016

SOS Children’s Villages enters besieged Madaya

UN chief calls deliberate starvation of town “war crime”

On Thursday 14 January, a four person team from SOS Children’s Villages gained access to Madaya, Syria, a town which has been under siege for months by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

A convoy of 44 trucks from the UN World Food Program, International Committee for the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) had headed in the morning to the rebel-held town of Madaya from the Syrian capital, Damascus. A similar aid convoy of 17 trucks drove to the villages of Foua and Kefraya, in the northern province of Idlib, which have been besieged by the Syrian rebels.

A devastating situation – especially for children

The SOS team waiting for entry to Madaya along with other aid organisations on 11 January. (Left to Right) Team leader Ahmed Hussien, Emergency Response Programme Manager Khaled Safadi, Food Officer Nazih Karraz. Photographer: Abeer Pamuk
In the evening, six trucks entered Madaya, while three trucks entered Foua and Kefraya simultaneously, according to the UN supported agreement. The team from SOS Children’s Villages were in convoy with the SARC. The SOS team’s aim was to carry out a rapid assessment and identify unaccompanied children and children in need of immediate help.

Abeer Pamuk, Communications Advisor, was part of this team, and later described her experiences: “The situation is really devastating for all the people there, but especially for the children. None of the children I saw looked healthy. They are obviously not getting the food they need to grow normally.”

“In a normal scenario, in a normal house in Syria, children will be playing and jumping all around and laughing. Madaya has children, but they do not look like they normally would. They are hungry kids, without any energy to move. The houses are full of children, but hunger has shot their spirits down.”
Abeer Pamuk

Ban Ki-moon: Deliberate starvation is a war crime

Reports of starvation have drawn international attention to Madaya, where an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 people are thought to be trapped without food, electricity and other basic supplies. The town is currently only being served by two doctors, with limited capacity for treating civilians.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the deliberate starvation of the town as a “war crime” on Thursday. In a speech before the UN General Assembly, he said, “The town has been the victim of deliberate starvation. Let me be clear: the use of food as a weapon of war is a war crime. All sides, including the Syrian Government, which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians — are committing atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

Next steps for SOS Children’s Villages

Communications advisor Abeer Pamuk (left) on 11 January speaking with women and children waiting for news of relatives trapped inside Madaya. Photographer: Ahmad Hussien
The SOS team’s aim on Thursday was to make an assessment of living conditions, particularly for the children. There will later be an evaluation of the general situation through a group of initiatives.

The SOS Children’s Villages team is currently focusing on bringing unaccompanied and separated children to SOS Interim Care Centres in rural Damascus, ensuring that children get needed medical aid and making sure that the children who remain in Madaya get milk. These steps will be discussed and confirmed in the next few days so that immediate action can be taken in collaboration with other INGOs.

“The faith of the people of Madaya is in the hands of a world just 100 metres away from them.”
Abeer Pamuk

Read more news about how the Syrian conflict is affecting children.