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June 25, 2013

Displaced Syrians Despair Over Civil War

by Scott Bobb

As Syria's civil war grinds into its third deadly year, the number of people displaced inside Syria continues to grow. Many eventually arrive in camps near Syria's border with Turkey where they wait for months to cross the border into safety. In less than a year these camps have grown into small towns with a distinctive, though not necessarily pleasant, lifestyle.

Late morning at the Bab al-Salama camp in northern Syria. Life has become routine and tedious as residents wait for places in Turkey's refugee camps.

This camp has grown in 10 months from nothing into a small town with a population of nearly 15,000 people. But life is nowhere near normal for those living in tents without electricity or running water.

Thirteen year-old Mahmoud Assad arrived five months ago from Aleppo with his family. Life, he said, is hard.

“It's very hot here. We suffer from mosquito bites, flies. My brother was bitten by a snake,” he said.

Dire health conditions

Poor sanitation in such tight quarters poses a health risk. The camp's head doctor, Namir al-Nasser, fears an outbreak of cholera or typhoid among other problems.

“The nutrition is very bad here. No fruit. The meat, once every week they give them some food with meat. And no eggs. I don't see here any milk, only yogurt. But it's not sufficient for these people,” said al-Nasser.

He said the water is purified, but the residents suffer anyway from diarrhea, which he believes is due to the poor sanitation.

Residents receive one meal a day, down from three-a-day last year. Today's meal consists of bulgur wheat, a sauce and green peppers.

Scratching for survival

Some residents operate small shops. Satuf al-Hassan said he makes one or two dollars a day.

“We are dying here. The people have no money,” said Hassan.

Twenty-eight year-old Hussein Kojak came four months ago after Syrian forces killed his brother and bombed his village. He knows about the new weapons promised by Western and gulf Arab countries.

“I heard about the arms," said Kojak. "I just wish they had come before. But God willing they will make a difference. Soon.”

In the evening the children attend classes. Twenty-four-year-old Mohammed al-Atrash said he tries to teach his pupils a new mentality.

“More freedom, of course. This is the main idea, that they can talk [speak] whatever they want, whenever they want and wherever they want,” he said.

Nevertheless, there is a mood of despair. After months of waiting, the passage to Turkey into safety still does not come.