By Nicholas Boland-Cairney, Blog Writer

The world has witnessed Syrian pro-government forces make significant advances on rebel-held Eastern Aleppo throughout October and November, increasing the strain on the already limited amount of emergency services and infrastructure available. Between the shelling and numerous casualties, the rebels have managed to muster the will to launch counter-offensives on the government-held Western Aleppo as a means to break the seemingly unending siege. The hostilities on both sides have already put civilians in dire circumstances, but it is becoming obvious that the pro-government forces are getting impatient. While the brief pause in Russian airstrikes earlier in the month brought about a much needed calm, the resumption of such hostilities have begun targeting hospitals in hopes of dealing a devastating blow to rebel groups and forcing their surrender.

While some argue that this is simply the cost of the widespread destruction that urban warfare brings about, the fact that there have been strikes on twelve hospitals and other medical facilities in the span of 10 days stands as a reminder that there is a much larger strategy at play. The assault was so systematically targeted that even the last remaining children’s hospital wasn’t safe. Further, four hospitals in east Aleppo were decimated on November 18th alone, the result of which left zero functioning hospitals for the 250,000 people living in the rebel-held district. It has been suggested that Russia is taking advantage of the “lame duck” period of Obama’s presidency by intensifying the bombing campaign against those who oppose Bashar al-Assad’s regime, especially in Aleppo.

It’s clear that Aleppo has become a focal point for Russia’s posturing in their international spheres of influence, but this has major consequences for the people on the ground. The systematic destruction of medical infrastructure mixed with the widespread use of barrel bombs has left the remaining holdout civilians in a truly horrifying situation with little access to food, water and health care. Even more distressing are the emerging reports of the use of chemical weapons in East Aleppo, such as the recorded incident on November 22nd where containers filled with chlorine gas were dropped by helicopters. There were multiple reported cases of breathing difficulties, according to the Aleppo Health Directorate for east Aleppo.

Ultimately, the combination of zero health infrastructure and the widespread use of indiscriminate weapons like chlorine gas and barrel bombs have left little choice for the civilians on the ground but to flee. However, reports are also emerging that those who try to escape are being forced back into the battleground one way or another. Sources from rebel-held east Aleppo are saying gunfire from pro-government forces are forcing civilians back to their homes, whereas the government is claiming that the rebels are using residents as human shields and preventing them from leaving. Medical facilities have been going to unimaginable lengths to continue to provide much needed care, such as attempts at excavating under and erecting walls around the hospitals. As supplies dwindle and emergency trips to sister hospitals have become a daily norm, it’s no wonder that the situation has been described by Doctors Without Borders as “hanging by a thread”. It’s only a matter of time before the entire situation collapses, which – disturbingly – appears to be exactly what the Assad regime is hoping for.

As the situation in Aleppo continues to develop, and with recent news of increased violence in South Sudan and Myanmar, the need to reform Canada’s Immigration Loan Program is as strong as ever. Help STAND Canada send a strong message to the Government of Canada by signing our e-petition in support of Refugee Loan Reform.

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