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Human Rights

In crumbling Aleppo, residents scramble for shelter



Izzat al-Dahan stands at the balcony of his Aleppo apartment on February 11th, in the former opposition held district of Salaheddine. [Louai Beshara/AFP]


Tractors and trucks remove the rubble from the former opposition-held district of Salaheddine in Aleppo on February 11th. [Louai Beshara/AFP]


Children sit on the rubble of buildings that were heavily damaged or destroyed during battles between opposition fighters and regime forces in Aleppo's Salaheddine district on February 11th. [Louai Beshara/AFP] 


Izzat al-Dahan stands in his damaged apartment in Aleppo's Salaheddine on February 11th. First displaced by the fighting, the family is being forced to move again as the building has been earmarked for demolition. [Louai Beshara/AFP] 

In the Syrian city of Aleppo, Izzat al-Dahan climbed up to his sixth-floor apartment in a crumbling building, and pushed open the wooden plank which serves as a door. This is home, but not for much longer.

He entered the cold and dark apartment, and surveyed the damage wrought by the fierce bombing which rained for years on the city.

The apartment, with its blackened walls, is the home he has owned for 22 years, but now he has to pack to leave once again.

"We have already been displaced four times during the conflict, and we thought we would never have to move again after the clashes and bombings ended" in late 2016, he said. "But today I was told... we must move again."


Izzat al-Dahan stands at the balcony of his apartment, in a building heavily damaged during battles between opposition fighters and regime forces, in the former opposition-held district of Salaheddine in Aleppo on February 11th. [Louai Beshara/AFP] 

Dahan, 50, his wife and seven children are the only remaining residents of the building, one of many blocks in the Salaheddine neighbourhood badly damaged in the four-year battle for the former opposition stronghold.

The other residents have all fled. And now the municipality has asked Dahan and his family to evacuate too, saying the block is not safe to live in.

With little reconstruction going on in Aleppo since the regime took back opposition districts with Russian support in late 2016, many buildings in the area are standing on the brink of collapse.

Earlier this month, 11 people, including four children, were killed when a five-story block came tumbling down in the neighbourhood.

The crisis has prompted Syrian authorities to form so-called "inspection committees" tasked with determining whether a building should be demolished.

'Nowhere to go'

"We first left this house in 2012, moving from one neighbourhood to the other in Aleppo, to escape the clashes," Dahan said.

They later returned in 2016 and "started renovating everything that could be refurbished, hoping we could stay", he added.

Dahan's wife, Umm Mohammad, said they have nowhere to go.

"We know that this place is dangerous, and the building could collapse at any moment, but we have no other choice," she said from inside the kitchen. "We have nowhere to go and no money to rent a new home."

The entrance to the neighbourhood has been sealed off as bulldozers demolish a series of buildings.

Salaheddine mayor Hasan al-Jok said residents tell him that they would rather stay, but the the risk is too high.

"Two months ago, we succeeded in completely evacuating one building and only four days later, it collapsed," he said.

"We feel we are responsible and we should make people aware of the need to evacuate so catastrophic incidents do not happen again," he said.

'Death follows us home'

Al-Jok says the municipality is moving evacuated residents to shelters in two other districts of Aleppo -- Bustan al-Basha and Masaken Hanano.

But "most people do not want to go to the shelters and they try to rent a smaller apartment in the same neighbourhood", he said.

So far, more than 20 buildings have been evacuated, he said, adding that a reconstruction plan is being prepared for after the demolitions are completed.

After the fighting stopped, "people started rushing back, before it was properly inspected", said Abdelmonem Omar, 50, who was sitting outside his building.

A while back, "a rock fell on a woman's head, killing her instantly", he said. "Now we are scared to even walk, and constantly looking up at buildings, fearing they will collapse."

After years of war, "death is now following us into our homes and shops", he said.

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