Exclusive - Displaced Syrians Left to Suffer in Blistering Cold as they Flee Idlib Bombardment

Friday, 14 February, 2020 - 08:00 -

Exclusive - Displaced Syrians Left to Suffer in Blistering Cold as they Flee Idlib Bombardment

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A displaced Syrian builds a fire in a refugee camp. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Idlib – Firas Karam

The suffering of displaced Syrians, who had fled death and the unknown, is exacerbated day after day with the intensification of military operations by the regime and its allies in the northwestern Idlib province and western Aleppo countryside.


“We are marching towards the unknown,” said many of the Syrians who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat of their plight against the bombardment and the elements where they are forced to seek shelter in flimsy tents and makeshift camps amid a frosty cold front.


Many of the displaced were originally displaced from other parts of Syria. They have joined the long lines of convoys as they make their way to the Turkish border in search for some semblance of safety.


“We walk to the sound of crying children and women and the bombardment of Russian fighter jets and regime artillery,” said Abou Mounzer after his family escaped Saraqeb in eastern Idlib a week ago. “It was the hardest night of my life. We all walked on foot. I carried one of my grandchildren on my back along with an insurmountable burden.”


“Our only concern, shared by hundreds of families from our city, was to get away from buildings that had become direct targets of all forms of regime and Russian weapons,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.


Several volunteers had offered their vehicles to transport them from the outskirts of the city. They abandoned their belongings and were taken to the al-Dana region that is close to the Turkish border.


Abou Mounzer said his family sought shelter on a nearby mountain where they were taken in by another displaced family from the southern Aleppo countryside.


“They welcomed us without knowing us. We stayed there for three days until a humanitarian agency provided us with two tents and several mattresses and covers,” he added. Another agency provided them with a food basket.


He spoke of his longing to return to his home of 60 years, but without Bashar Assad’s regime ruling Syria.


A few meters from Abou Mounzer’s tent lives Umm Ibrahim. She lives in a modest tent with her sons after fleeing her village of Tell al-Tuqan in eastern Idlib. She spoke candidly about her sadness and helplessness, revealing that she had lost her husband a year ago in a raid against her village.


“I hope that God will not prolong our plight,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat. She complained of the cold and said she did not have enough money to support her family. “We can only afford one food basket per month.”


She could not even provide her five children winter clothes. They spend their days collecting plastic bags and straw to use for fuel for fire to warm the cold nights.


Tents on the mountains


Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled Idlib and western Aleppo towards northern Syria where there is no longer enough room to accommodate their massive numbers. The mountains by the Turkish border are now their last resort for safety.


Activist Samer al-Hussein said some 30 refugee camps, housing more than 7,000 families, have been set up in several border areas. Many of the displaced were already displaced from other regions.


One newcomer from Maaret al-Numan, Abou Khaled, said the displaced were unprepared for the harsh and rocky terrain. He explained that they chose this area over others where heavy rain had flooded camps. He added that the arbitrary setting up of tents on the mountains without the proper digging of roads has led to difficulties in securing water and other daily needs.


He complained that some people have to carry heavy gallons of water on the rocky terrain, while others have turned to collecting rainwater. Response to appeals to humanitarian agencies to establish proper roads have yet to be met with groups saying they lack enough funds.


Frosty front


Mosab al-Qassem, head of the medical center at the Kfar Lucin camp, said the sudden arrival of thousands of refugees in northern Syria coincided with a severe cold front and huge drop in temperatures that reached subzero levels.


This naturally affected refugees, who had been relying on primitive and unhealthy ways to heat themselves and cook their meals. He said dozens of children, especially babies, suffered from respiratory infections and problems as a result, revealing that relief agencies were providing treatment, but they lacked the necessary means should the number of patients continue to rise.


Local activists said more than 2.2 million people had fled to northern Syria from Damascus and its countryside, Hama, Daraa, Homs and the Idlib and Aleppo countrysides. They have sought refuge in border camps, schools, mosques and uninhabitable under-construction buildings.


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