New testimony from residents living inside besieged Syrian villages gathered by Amnesty International, describing their desperate struggle to feed themselves through the winter months, highlights the crucial need to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to all civilians in need and lift all sieges on civilian populations across country.

The organization has spoken to residents in the besieged town of Madaya in the Damascus Countryside governorate, and gathered fresh accounts of conditions in al-Fouaa and Kefraya in the Idleb Countryside governorate. The starving residents described how families are surviving on little more that foraged leaves and boiled water. The villages are due to resume receiving aid following a deal involving the Syrian government, struck on 7 January 2016.

“These harrowing accounts of hunger represent the mere tip of an iceberg. Syrians are suffering and dying across the country because starvation is being used as a weapon of war by both the Syrian government and armed groups. By continuing to impose sieges on civilian areas and only sporadically allowing in aid at their whim they are fuelling a humanitarian crisis and toying with the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“Using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is a war crime. All parties laying siege to civilian areas – the government and non-state armed groups – must stop impeding relief supplies and allow immediate unfettered access for humanitarian aid.”

The UN estimates that some 400,000 people are surviving without access to life-saving aid in 15 besieged locations across Syria.

The UN Security Council adopted two resolutions calling on all parties to the conflict to lift all sieges and grant humanitarian access. So far, all parties have failed to comply with these resolutions to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Syria.


Madaya and Boukein

The adjacent towns of Madaya and Boukein, west of Damascus, have been besieged since July 2015 by Syrian government forces. Some 40,000 people are thought to be trapped in the two villages, cut off from electricity and water supplies.

Aid was last delivered to the area in October 2015 and has since run out. A ceasefire agreed in September 2015 was meant to guarantee unimpeded access to aid and the evacuation of injured civilians, but this was not implemented.

Families do not have basic food supplies. Some supplies still make it through the siege lines but these are exorbitantly priced. Families have resorted to foraging in the surrounding woods, where they risk being shot by snipers or blown up by mines.


   Every day I wake up and start searching for food. I lost a lot of weight, I look like a skeleton covered only in skin.    

Mohammad, resident of Madaya

Mohammad, resident of Madaya
Interviewed on 7 January 2016

Every day I wake up and start searching for food. I lost a lot of weight, I look like a skeleton covered only in skin. Every day, I feel that I will faint and not wake up again… I have a wife and three children. We eat once every two days to make sure that whatever we buy doesn’t run out. On other days, we have water and salt and sometimes the leaves from trees. Sometimes organizations distribute food they have bought from suppliers, but they cannot cover the needs of all the people.

In Madaya, you see walking skeletons. The children are always crying. We have many people with chronic diseases. Some told me that they go every day to the checkpoints, asking to leave, but the government won’t allow them out. We have only one field hospital, just one room, but they don’t have any medical equipment or supplies.

Um Sultan, resident of Madaya
Interviewed on 7 January 2016

The siege became harder and harder as the food ran out. Every day I hear that someone is sick and unable to leave the bed. My husband is now one of them. He can’t leave the bed and when he does, he faints. I don’t recognize him anymore, he is skin and bones. I have asked for help with food but no one can help, we are all in the same mess. The women always protest. We go to checkpoints and beg the Syrian security forces to let us leave or at least allow the food to enter. They told us that “a siege on Kefraya and al-Fouaa means a siege on Madaya”. I have three children and I can’t afford to buy them food. A kilo of rice or sugar is around 100,000 Syrian pounds [equivalent to around US$450]. Who can afford that?

Louay, resident of Madaya
Interviewed on 7 January 2016

The last time I had a full meal was at least a month and a half ago. Now I mainly have water with leaves. Winter is here and the trees no longer have leaves, so I am not sure how we will survive. If you have money, you can buy food. But people have also started running out of money because the food is so expensive. I ran out of money a few weeks ago, so now I rely on aid, which does not meet everyone’s needs.

Al-Fouaa and Kefraya

Al-Fouaa and Kefraya villages, north-east of Idleb city, have been completely encircled by Jaysh al-Fateh, a non-state armed group, since March 2015. Some 30,000 people are believed to be living there. The villages have been heavily shelled. They are also cut off from electricity, water and food supplies. A ceasefire agreed in September 2015 has not been fully implemented.

Mazen, resident of al-Fouaa
Interviewed on 7 January 2015

There is no electricity in both villages and there has been no water since March 2015. We have a limited amount of food, and we don’t have vegetables and flour, so there is no bread. We don’t have sugar and rice. Some people are living on the food they saved for emergencies, or on the products that can be prepared without water, or sometimes on supplies that have been dropped by air by the Syrian government.

Three months ago, Jaysh al-Fateh executed two men because they were caught smuggling food to the villages. Their mosques in the nearby villages announced the execution, and warned that the same fate awaited anyone who tried to smuggle even a single loaf of bread.

The armed groups shelled the main water tank a few months ago so we don’t have any water left. We haven’t received any fuel from the UN so we have been using wood to keep warm.

Fadi, resident of al-Fouaa
Interviewed on 7 January 2016

Only two weeks ago, the armed groups allowed the Red Crescent to evacuate 336 civilians and injured people. The evacuation should have happened months ago as part of the ceasefire agreement. We don’t have food. I personally do not have any more food left. I used all of the food reserves my family and I had.

Now we are waiting for the aid to arrive but it won’t be enough. We cannot have aid once every few months. People cannot survive. Also, the people with chronic diseases are suffering the most. They do not have access to medicines and many of them were not included on the list of people to be evacuated.