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World

Syria To Allow Observers To Monitor Aleppo Evacuations

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.N. said this morning that the Syrian government will allow about 20 observers into Aleppo in order to monitor the progress of evacuations there. It's the result of a compromise struck with Russia at the U.N. Security Council to allow independent observers into the rebel-held eastern part of the city. Jan Egeland is with the Norwegian Refugee Council and special adviser to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria. I asked him a short time ago about whether the evacuation is still underway.

JAN EGELAND: They are continuing, thank God. Altogether now, some 20,000 people are out since the whole evacuation scheme started on the 15 of December. But they were interrupted once when we had terrorist attacks. And we had lots of tension and misunderstandings. These are very complex, very difficult, very vulnerable evacuations. But if all goes well, the - all of the civilians who want to leave east Aleppo could perhaps be out in 24 hours more.

MARTIN: So if I could ask you about this compromise deal that the UN Security Council worked out to send observers in to watch these evacuations to make sure that they're happening as they should be, what are you hearing on that front? Do you know if the observers are in place and what they are seeing?

EGELAND: There are many waiting to go from Damascus and Homs and other places. It's a question of the government of Syria and the armed actors on the ground giving access to our people. The whole history of Syria has been one of lacking access to civilians. Armed men with guns and power have prevented humanitarians from doing their job on behalf of the civilians. That's the story of this - this war. And remember, there are some 16 besieged areas beyond east Aleppo with 700,000 people. And we need to access there, so perhaps the monitors can also come and help us get through to those people.

MARTIN: What are the conditions right now of the people who are being evacuated?

EGELAND: They are very, very bad. You know, imagine being on the - in a war zone for nearly five years and then in a besieged area every single day since July and having your hospitals, your apartment blocks bombed, crossfire. Where - where - you know, the opposing forces have all neglected the needs of the civilian population - no functioning hospitals in the end, and then sitting for 20, 40, 50, 60 hours in the freezing cold in an endless line to get out with these rescue buses. They are exhausted. They are, you know, in a very bad shape, but they are happy to be out of east Aleppo.

MARTIN: And just to be clear, it is your hope and expectation that if the compromise deal holds and evacuations are able to continue that all people who are threatened in the city of Aleppo should be evacuated within the next 24 hours?

EGELAND: They could very well be but it depends on everything going smoothly. That is what the Russians tell us. It's their hope. They want to see the whole place being evacuated before the government forces and the allied forces from Iran and elsewhere takes over that part of east Aleppo. It's very important that all are evacuated before that happens because there are enormous protection concerns when, you know, an armed group takes on an area that was held by their so-called enemy.

MARTIN: Jan Egeland is secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. We spoke to him via Skype from Oslo.

Thank you so much.

EGELAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.