Syria: Thousands of Families Trapped in Underground Shelters as Fighting Intensifies

Eleven children who attended Save the Children-supported schools killed since start of the year

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (February 8, 2018) — Tens of thousands of children are in immediate danger in besieged Eastern Ghouta, where a new onslaught of bombing has caused mass civilian casualties, and trapped thousands of families in underground shelters and flattened schools.

Violence has escalated in recent weeks, but the death toll has risen sharply in the past 72 hours, with reports of almost 200 people killed. Since the start of the year, at least 11 children who attended Save the Children-supported schools, as well as one of the teachers, have been killed.

Save the Children’s partners on the ground say 45 schools in Eastern Ghouta, where around 400,000 people now live, have been attacked since the start of 2018, with 11 completely destroyed. Other schools have had to close for days at a time for security reasons.

More than 4,000 families are now sheltering in underground basements and bunkers, according to Save the Children partners who operate in the besieged enclave on the outskirts of Damascus. They are unable to flee the area as it remains under siege, with aid blocked from entering and civilians – including critically ill children – barred from leaving.

“Children in Eastern Ghouta are being starved, bombed and trapped,” says Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director. “Schools are supposed to be safe places for children, protected under international law, yet they are being attacked every single day. Children and teachers are terrified that at any moment they could be hit. The siege means there is nowhere for them to escape. There must be an immediate halt to the fighting and an end to the siege.”

No UN aid has been allowed into the area since November. Food is now scarce and prohibitively expensive, with many essential items now costing nearly 800 percent more than in government-controlled areas just a few miles away.

Most families are trying to survive on just one meal a day, and people are burning plastic furniture as they have run out of fuel.

More funding is urgently needed to help local aid organizations who are struggling to keep services going in the face of the siege and bombing.

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