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Mercy Corps, Headquartered In Portland, Helps Evacuees Fleeing Aleppo

Busloads of civilians continue to evacuate from the Syrian city of Aleppo. The Syrian government army retook rebel-held parts of the city last week.

The nonprofit Mercy Corps, headquartered in Portland, is among the aid organizations helping the evacuees find food and shelter.

The city of Aleppo is less than a hundred miles from Syria’s border with Turkey, but that border is closed, so the people leaving Aleppo are still stuck inside war-torn Syria.

The buses are taking them to the rebel-held countryside west of the city.

Mercy Corps is among several aid groups that have opened rural welcome centers for evacuees.

About 1,000 evacuees have come to the Mercy Corps center. It gives people blankets, food and a warm place to stay while they figure out what to do next.

“There are people who don’t really know where they’re going to go. What Mercy Corps is doing is trying to identify where is there some shelter that is warm and dry and safe. And that may be in municipal buildings, like a school or a mosque,” says Christy Delafield, a Mercy Corps spokeswoman in Gaziantep, Turkey.

Delafield said temperatures have dropped below freezing in Northern Syria.

“Our top priority is to get them someplace warm,” she said.

Mercy Corps provides aid to roughly half a million Syrians each month, according to Delafield. The organization works with a staff of several hundred Syrians and runs food-aid programs. It distributes food kits and also provides free flour to Syrian bakeries, which in turn sell bread at a discount.

Bread accounts for 40 percent of Syrian’s calorie intake, according to the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace.

For decades, flour subsidies were a core part of Syria's domestic policy.

Both sides in the conflict have attempted to block food deliveries and to use hunger and starvation to manipulate civilians, according to the World Food Program.

Government troops and rebel groups have fought a civil war in Syria for more than five years.

Mercy Corps is inviting Portlanders to write letters and send messages of support to their Syrian staff and the people they help.

The message writing event is on Wednesday, Dec. 21, from 1–3 p.m. at the Mercy Corps Action Center.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amelia Templeton is a multimedia reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting, covering Portland city hall, justice and local news. She was previously a reporter for EarthFix, an award-winning public media project covering the environment in the Northwest.