“It was the most terrible thing. I was the first person to go in after there had been fighting consecutively for about twenty six days. There was no one left. There was no one for us to go in and support and help. I kept asking the question: Where have the people gone?”
That's what Valerie Amos, United Nations Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, about her recent visit to Homs. Amos has been an eyewitness to the human cost of the ever widening civil war in Syria.
“I was shocked by what I saw in Baba Amr,” said Amos, discussing a suburb of the besieged city with Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday. “It was a neighborhood that I had been told housed fifty to sixty thousand people. It was completely destroyed. There wasn’t a single building that was left untouched. Very clear evidence of tanks rolling over pavement, of large mortal shells having been used, a few people scrabbling around trying to collect their possessions.”
The devastation, she added, was spreading: “We’re seeing this repeated in city after city in Syria. And this is the horrible thing - that it is civilians, it is children…About half the people who have left as refugees are children and adolescents…The trauma that they are going through, that their parents are going through, it’s something that we all feel very strongly and the government and the rebels have to recognize this. They hold the responsibility.”
Quite complex, bureaucratic procedures
“It’s taken us too long to do this,” said Amos. “I was there (in Syria) in early March…we were very clear that about a million people need help. Our progress since then…has been very slow.”
Hampering the humanitarian effort, of course, has been the escalating conflict. However, Amos insists there are political, even bureaucrat, obstacles as well: “The kind of effort we’re talking about needs a lot more people on the ground. So we’ve been trying to work with them (the Syrian government) to say let’s get the visas agreed; let’s get people in.”
In response, the Syrian authorities “are very keen on putting in place quite complex bureaucratic procedures, getting clearance every single step of the way. Our experience, when you’re dealing with these urgent humanitarian issues, is that you have to get in there, you have to help people immediately. It’s what people are looking for.”