With the humanitarian effort in east Aleppo now well underway, the scale and impact of the destruction continue to become clearer.

Hollowed-out shells are all that remain of much of east Aleppo – rubble and twisted piles of concrete are everywhere.

It is still extremely dangerous – with risks from unexploded ordnance in some areas further complicating the humanitarian effort. Basic services including schools, water and healthcare facilities are also badly-hit – and will need extensive reconstruction to begin breathing life back into east Aleppo.

On 3 January, Sajjad Malik, UNHCR’s Country Representative in Syria, along with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) visited the Sakhour clinic in east Aleppo.

UNHCR began assisting Iraqi refugees in Syria in 1991 – helping those who fled the Iraq war to seek safety. By the end of 2010, over 1,300,000 refugees and asylum-seekers – including one million Iraqis – were housed in Syria.

UNHCR originally helped to set up the Sakhour clinic to provide health care to Iraqi refugees. Now, the clinic stands in ruins – but Sajjad Malik said it will be rebuilt with SARC.

“Nothing can really prepare you for the scale of the destruction in east Aleppo”

“Nothing can really prepare you for the scale of the destruction in east Aleppo – and especially to vital facilities like clinics, which are so badly needed in any community. But we are going to help to rebuild this and other facilities – it’s almost like coming full-circle with this clinic in Sakhour.”

In one of the rooms, abandoned boxes and shelves of medicines intrigued the UN and SARC teams. But staff were advised not to touch anything because of the risk of unexploded bombs or booby-traps. It is a grim reminder of the stark reality of providing assistance in an area where death and destruction became so commonplace.

While Sajjad Malik and the SARC team continued their assessment in the clinic, outside, a few families were seen returning and beginning their own assessments of what needed to be done to their former homes. Children were seen playing – a surreal image amid piles of debris.

 “We have to rebuild, we have to invest in hope, optimism and peace.”

“The spirit of the city is still here, but it needs our support. We have to rebuild, we have to invest in hope, optimism and peace. We have to help provide people with tools to get on with their lives. But we have to also remember that there are 13.5 million Syrians in need elsewhere in the country – 6.3 million of whom are displaced. And they also need our help”, says Malik.

Story by Scott Craig

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