Over the course of four days, the Red Cross and our partners the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have evacuated 25,000 people from eastern Aleppo.
Starting before dawn on 15 December, a convoy of buses and ambulances made several trips into the hard-to-reach areas of the city, in northern Syria.
One hundred Red Crescent volunteers and staff members from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) brought out the wounded, sick and families with children first.
A group of orphans and their carers, who had been trapped in a residential home, were also brought to safety.
This was the first time since April that Red Cross and Red Crescent teams had been allowed into these areas of eastern Aleppo, despite trying to get in for months.
Early morning, 15 December
“There was firing before we entered east Aleppo for the first evacuation,” said Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC in Syria.
“Right up until the last minute, it wasn’t clear we’d get in. A crane was used to remove some of the debris from the street so the ambulances and buses could get through.
“There were burnt-out cars. Smoke rising from nearby buildings. There was a lot of fear and uncertainty.”
Mid-morning to mid-afternoon
The process of putting wounded people into ambulances began. Two hundred people were identified for medical transport.
At around 2.30pm, the first group of 26 wounded patients were transported in 13 ambulances.
They were taken to health care facilities in rural areas of Aleppo and Idlib.
Access to health care in eastern Aleppo has been almost non-existent. Only two health facilities were functioning and they faced shortages of medicines, skilled medical staff, equipment and fuel.
Those who were well enough were driven out on the buses.
“When we arrived, the scene was heart-breaking. People are faced with impossible choices,” Gasser said.
“You see their eyes filled with sadness. It was very moving.”
The convoy passed the first checkpoints between eastern and western Aleppo.
By 4.40pm, 1,000 people had been evacuated from eastern areas.
7.00am, 16 December
The evacuation operation had been going for just over 24 hours. To reach as many people as possible, the convoy went into and out of eastern Aleppo ten times.
Around 10,000 people had been evacuated to safe areas of the city, including many who were critically wounded.
11.30am, 16 December
The evacuation was put on hold.
People who had already left received food, shelter and medical care from the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Many, like the man above, were staying in collective shelters elsewhere in the city.
The pause in operations last Friday saw many people in a state of extreme fear as they had no idea when the evacuation would start again.
Many worried they would be left behind or in limbo.
People near the frontline started to burn plastic to keep warm.
One father told us he was unsure whether he should take his son back home and die there, or stay here and die of cold.
Our ICRC colleagues said this was one of the hardest nights they had ever spent, waiting with civilians, in harsh conditions, not knowing when the evacuation would resume.
People have a little bit of hope again – the evacuation started again early yesterday morning.
Working through the night, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams evacuated 15,000 people from eastern Aleppo.
Another 750 people were also evacuated from the nearby towns of Foua and Kefraya.
The operation continues
“No-one knows how many people are left in the east, and the evacuation could take days,” Gasser said.
“Working alongside the Red Crescent, we will continue to act as a neutral intermediary, and help as many people as possible who are in need.”
Together, we are planning evacuations to reach the thousands of people still waiting for help.
Since the end of November, we have provided food, water, medical care and a place to sleep to around 50,000 people who have left eastern Aleppo.
This work will also continue as long as it is needed to support and protect the people of Aleppo.