SYRIA

Crucial reports and 70 bodies left behind in east Aleppo's morgue

The entrance to the morgue in East Aleppo. The building was bombed several times and is now almost totally destroyed. Photo from Facebook.
The entrance to the morgue in East Aleppo. The building was bombed several times and is now almost totally destroyed. Photo from Facebook.

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Mohamed Kehil left east Aleppo in a rush on Monday December 19, one of the thousands of people evacuated from the bombarded city in the temporary ceasefire. A director of forensic medicine, he has been documenting the deaths of thousands of people killed by the regime's bombing campaign over the last few years with a team of volunteers.

Kehil was evacuated along with thousands of other civilians in coaches on Monday and taken to the neighbouring town of Idlib, where he was able to join family members. But he left Aleppo with a heavy heart, concerned about the fate of thousands of reports, photos and evidence documenting the many unidentified bodies in east Aleppo.

"We left 70 dead bodies behind"

The day before I left, the building which houses the forensic medicine department of east Aleppo was attacked. On Saturday night, two of my colleagues were in the entrance of the building and were killed by snipers. That night, several of my colleagues were stuck inside and unable to leave because of the regime's snipers, who were posted in front of the building in the Cheikh Saïd area.

We managed to smash a hole in the side of the building, out of the range of Assad's forces, in order to evacuate my colleagues.

Photos of the east Aleppo morgue. The building was seriously damaged by bombing over recent months.

The east Aleppo morgue was repeatedly bombed in air strikes carried out by the Syrian regime and Russian forces in recent months. The refrigerators used to preserve dead bodies were destroyed in an air raid in August 2016. After that, volunteers were forced to quickly bury the bodies to prevent disease from spreading.

Mohamed Kehil continues:

We left the bodies of 70 dead people inside the building. We were going to bury them on Friday, but we weren't able to because the cemetery was in range of pro-Bachar Assad forces.

"We were building up this database to help families identify the bodies of their loved ones"

We weren't able to take all of the thousands of documents that we have been writing and compiling these last few years. They're reports with detailed information on the victims of air strikes. When a person died and we found some ID on them, we would write a detailed report with photos and information on their body type, their height, eye colour, anything distinctive that could help to identify them later on. In these reports, we also wrote down information about the area where they were found and the person who brought them to the morgue. After having made notes on all of that, we would bury them and assign them a number for a tomb, which we would then put in their dossier.

Images showing volunteers documenting deaths in the east Aleppo morgue. Images from Facbook.

We built up this database primarily to help families to identify the bodies of their loved ones and so enable them to grieve. Now, if the building is burnt down or ransacked, all of this information that we've compiled will be destroyed and all the work we've done will go up in smoke.