Aleppo, like so many cities in Syria, has become a symbol for the destruction inflicted on the country by almost a decade of war.
Before conflict broke out in 2011, Aleppo was a thriving city with at least 2.3 million residents. Yet it would soon become a battleground for some of the deadliest and protracted fighting in the country, which would endure until forces loyal to Assad recaptured the last opposition holdout in east Aleppo in December 2016.
By that point, the population had fallen to approximately 1.6 million, with many killed and thousands more displaced by the sustained unrest.
Yet since the liberation of Aleppo, people are starting to return, and the city is slowly beginning to rebuild.
According to UN estimates, 600,000 residents have come back to the city’s wider provinces since the end of 2016. In the city centre itself, some returning Syrians have already reopened businesses that were shuttered by the conflict.
“After three years in Turkey, I came back within days of Aleppo being liberated,” said Mohamed, who reopened his shop selling nuts and seeds 10 months ago.
“All that time, I was just waiting to come back because this shop has been in my family for three generations,” he explained to IRIN. “The roof was caved in, but luckily the equipment had survived.”
In the coming year, the UN expects 250,000 of the 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees to return to the country. And, like Mohamed, many will be coming home to Aleppo.
This bodes well for a city where airstrikes were once a daily occurrence. Since the liberation, local residents and aid workers have been repairing much of Aleppo’s damaged infrastructure.
In the Old City area, workers for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have been shifting rubble in order to clear main roads. Across Aleppo, the UN has also been repairing water and sanitation systems.
These efforts are indicative of the work being done by people all over the city. Through resilience and determination, Syrians are reopening businesses and bringing a sense of normalcy back to Aleppo—even while bomb sites and bullet holes still mark the streets.
It will be a long process, but with the efforts of local residents, returning refugees and aid organisations, Aleppo will once again become a home for many.