Over 5.000 vehicles and 40.000 people drove in “Open the Way to Aleppo” convoy which was initiated after IHH’s call to open a humanitarian safe passage out of Aleppo for civilians. Seventy one million Turkish liras was raised during the journey. As a result of the public awareness campaign and Turkey’s diplomatic efforts 45.000 Syrian civilians were evacuated to the safe zone.
Aleppo, one of the major cities of Syria turned to rubble after 6 years of conflict. Only a few thousand is currently living in the city, which was before the war a commercial hub with 4-million population. The Asad regime and its allies laid siege over the city in late 2016 and blocked humanitarian aid from entering as a result the civilians trapped inside suffered a terrible massacre. IHH humanitarians had mobilized to press the international community for opening a safe passage for civilians and stopping the massacre as they set off in “Open the Way to Aleppo” convoy.
In the first hours right after the first call to the convoy thousands of people applied to join in at IHH headquarters in Istanbul and other branch offices and grassroots across Turkey. Hence the convoy was going to grow bigger and bigger on the way from Istanbul to Reyhanli border checkpoint.
When it was Wednesday 14th of December 2016 it was time for the convoy to start off. The participants gathered in Kazlıçeşme Square in Istanbul and after giving the final touch to the preparations hundreds of vehicles hit the road along with aid trucks carrying basic food supplies. Down the road people who set off from various cities in Turkey joined in the convoy. Big meet-ups happened in Sakarya and Konya and huge demonstrations to protest the attacks in Aleppo were held.
People filling up their cars with aid supplies to bring to our brothers in Aleppo, and others trying their best to organize the things although they cannot join the convoy was a dear sight to behold. Some approached with parcels of supplies or bags of humanitarian aid, while others brought some money or just big smiles to the convoy and asked the drivers to pass their regards to those in Syria.
The spirits were high in the convoy till Antioch and it reached Reyhanli border on 17th December Friday. The convoy that first headed to IHH’s Reyhanlı Coordination Centre was welcome by the locals and Syrian women, men, elderly and children. The convoy of five thousand vehicles that runs for miles created a spectacle and caused traffic in the tiny town. Indeed Reyhanli streets witnessed a historical moment.
The emergency aid supplies brought in with the convoy were stored in IHH`s warehouse to be delivered to Syrian civilians who were forced to flee from Aleppo to the countryside and Idlib. Particularly in winter the list of necessary supplies were getting longer for refugees from Aleppo. Hence these aid supplies would make lessen the troubles a bit. The IHH teams were planning and coordinating the transfer of these aid supplies that include legume, cleaning materials, toys, clothes etc. to the tent cities set up off Idlib.
Thousands of convoy activists, who spent the night in IHH Reyhanlı Coordination Centre, mosques, wedding halls and sports halls, marched to Cilvegözü checkpoint at the border the following day to make a demonstration. IHH President Bülent Yıldırım addressed the crowd of 40.000 people that gathered in front of the checkpoint and called out for safe passage for humanitarian supplies to be delivered to Aleppons and for ending the massacre. After talking about what has been happening in Aleppo he expressed his thanks to those who joined in the convoy. Yildirim, then invited all NGOs to the Syrian border: “We won`t return home until and unless the shelling and bombing stops. I am calling out to my brothers; you will invite all humanity to this place. We brought you on to this journey so that you can experience the hardship. Now we all know how it feels not to be able to shower, to sleep in the cold. Now we know what Syrians have been going through for six years.” During his speech Bülent Yıldırım also gave updates about the negotiations going on in the Syrian side regarding the evacuation of civilians.
The evacuation of the civilians started after the humanitarian convoy of civilians pressed to the border and was despite several sabotage attempts completed in nine days thanks to IHH`s humanitarian diplomatic efforts and Turkey`s involvement. The Aleppons under siege were rescued. Around 45.000 people were evacuated from Aleppon and they were received in safe zone. IHH delivered food and clothes aid to the victims and settled them in a new tent city set up by IHH in Idlib. The whole process was shared visa live broadcast with the world.
“Open the Way to Aleppo” convoy attracted great interest from international press and it was on the UN agenda. Jan Egeland, the Special Advisor to UN Special Envoy for Syria Staggan da Misture said regarding the ceasefire and evacutation in Syria “Primarily IHH and all Turkish NGOs are doing an important job in evacuation operation. Especially IHH has done a great job.”
IHH also has undertaken humanitarian work of meeting the needs of Syrians who have been settled along the border followed by the evacuations. Emergency aid, children, hygiene packets, immediate fuel aid, tents and other necessary supplies have been delivered to the Syrians who are spending the winter in refugee camps or on the migration trail.
IHH has carried out 740.000.000 TL worth of humanitarian aid work for Syria since the war started in 2011. The foundation sent out eleven thousand aid trucks to the region and delivered medical supplies and equipment to the hospitals; delivered twenty five aid truck-load of medicine and 683 ambulances. It is also caring for seven thousand orphans via regular cash aid including three thousand living in IHH orphanages. It established Damascus University to allow Syrian youth continue their studies and rehab centre as well as sewing wokrshops to help decrease the horrible effect of war on individuals. Currently over 150.000 refugees are living in tent cities set up by IHH.