HOMS, Syria, 29 May, 2014 – An estimated 240,000 people, including children and women, remain besieged in Syria. They remain cut off from essential services such as safe water and electricity, along with life-saving necessities including food medical supplies. They live in a world assaulted by explosions and gunfire – the ongoing refrain of a conflict now into its fourth year.
The Old City of Homs remained a besieged area for nearly two years. In February 2014, close to 1,400 civilian children and elderly were allowed to leave the Old City thanks to a UN-supervised agreement. Then in the first week of May, an agreement negotiated between the Government of Syria and the armed opposition groups enabled the fighters and a number of civilians to evacuate the Old City.
Following the recent agreement, former residents of the Old City who were uprooted and displaced as fighting in the Old City, returned to check on what remains of their former homes and businesses.
The scale of destruction in the Old City is staggering. At least 50 per cent of the neighbourhoods are now destroyed and there is large-scale damage to essential infrastructure like water and sewerage systems.
Most houses in the Old City of Homs which were heavily damaged in the fighting have been sitting vacant following since the conflict began in the area. Many children and their families fled to escape the violence. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Ali
A battle-scarred street heaped with rubbish in the Old City of Homs, the aftermath of nearly two years of siege and conflict. UNICEF/Syria-2014/Ali
The Old City of Homs lies in ruins following a nearly two-year siege. There is large-scale structural damage, a lack of water and power supplies, and health risks from open sewage. Children and families that fled the fighting cannot return to their homes yet, even though the fighting in this part of Homs is over. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Ali
A women picks her way through a rubble strewn street in the Old City of Homs, which lies in ruins following an almost two-year siege. While children and families are returning to the area to visit their former homes and retrieve possessions, there is a very real risk from unexploded ordnance. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Ali
People retrieve their possessions from a conflict-damaged street in the Old City of Homs. With the infrastructure severely damaged and risks of unexploded ordnance, it is not possible for displaced children and families to return. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Ali
A boy walks through a rubble-littered street in the Old City of Homs following cessation of conflict in the area. © UNICEF/Syria-2014/ Ali
People return to the Old City of Homs to survey the damage to their former homes and businesses. The risk from unexploded ordnance is high, especially for children, who may not be aware of the dangers. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Ali
Two women use prams to move possessions retrieved from the Old City of Homs. Many children and families displaced by the fighting are now returning to check the status of their homes and to retrieve personal items. With at least 50 per cent of the neighbourhoods in the Old City destroyed and vital infrastructure severely damaged, returning to live in the area is not yet viable. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Ali
Bassam and Fairuz retrieve household items from their battered home in the Old city of Homs following an agreement that ended the nearly two year siege. The family, including their son, were displaced from their home more than two years ago. “This is our second trip in the last seven days,” says Fairuz. “During the last trip we brought our son along but after the trip he was down with diarrhoea for three days. Later, he told us he had made the mistake of drinking from an open, untapped water pipe near the house. There is not much that is left of our home. It’s all gone. Still, we managed to find some of the furniture and home utilities that we can take to our new home. For us, this marks the end of our ties with Old Homs, at least for several years to come until the town is rebuilt.” ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Tiku
Piles of clothing, dolls, toys and books strewn on the street are a common sight in the Old City of Homs, following a nearly two-year siege. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Tiku
A UNICEF staff member talks to Father Silvanos, of the Orthodox Church, which used to run an orphanage in the Old City of Homs. Now that fighting has stopped, rehabilitating the orphanage is a priority. “Prior to the crisis, there were 25 children in the orphanage,” says Father Silvanos, a Bishop. “Now with hundreds of people killed among Orthodox Catholics alone, the number of orphan children in need of support will be much higher.” ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Rabee
An abandoned school in the Old City of Homs is visible through a damaged wall. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Rabee
An adolescent boy holds a T-square, a technical drawing tool. It is among the few items he was able to retrieve from his former home in the Old City of Homs. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/Tiku