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February 13, 2013

Displaced Syrians Struggle in Internal Camps

by Scott Bobb

On a winter day in the Bab al-Salama camp in northern Syria, more than 10,000 Syrians are struggling to survive. The population of this sprawling tent city has doubled in the past three months, primarily because of bombings by Syrian government forces.  And they are just a small proportion of the two million people counted as internally displaced.

Most of the people at the camp are waiting for a safer place in neighboring Turkey, which already shelters nearly 200,000 Syrians. Every few days, the Turkish authorities allow a few hundred in. In all, 700,000 Syrians are registered as refugees in neighboring countries.

Um Ahmed - her assumed name - fled the town of Azaz one month ago with her nine children. She said life in the camp is hard.

“It's starvation," she said. "There is no bread. The relief that comes doesn't reach us. There is no medical assistance. No sanitation. Nothing.”

Some aid

A Turkish aid group provides meals but residents say these are not enough. Many people are malnourished. Water and sanitation are lacking. Some medicines are in short supply.

At night, the temperature drops to near-freezing. Some people have heating stoves but many do not. There is no firewood, so residents burn trash to stay warm. The smoke creates a health hazard.

Mohamed Rami, a merchant, fled Aleppo four months ago. He helps dig drainage ditches in the camp.

“It's to remove the rainwater," he said. "Before it was like a lake here. But the mud is also a big problem.”

Atmat Hatib has put up a tent for his family of 10.  He predicts a long war between forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels of the Free Syrian Army.

The United Nations says the two-year conflict has killed nearly 70,000 people.

“As soon as Bashar al-Assad falls, everyone will go back home," Hatib said. "But until then, nobody is going anywhere.”