IDPs in northern Syria: A supported tent is better than a home without aid

Displacement camps in northwest Syria - January 15, 2024 (Syria Civil Defense)

Displacement camps in northwest Syria - January 15, 2024 (Syria Civil Defense)

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Each person living in the camps of northern Syria dreams of moving from his tent, which has been his home for years, to a house with walls to protect against the cold of winter and the heat of summer. However, some have recently become reluctant to move into concrete houses, due to lack of humanitarian aid there, and some have even preferred to return to the tents where they used to receive monthly assistance.

Northwest Syria houses 4.5 million people, of which 4.1 million need assistance, 3.3 million suffer from food insecurity, and 2.9 million are internally displaced persons; two million live in camps, according to the United Nations. Local statistics, however, speak of 5.5 to 6 million people.

Hussein Amairi, a Palestinian displaced since 2018 from Yarmouk camp to northern Syria, recently moved to his new home in the residential village of Haifa al-Karmel in the area of Killi, north of Idlib, after spending five years in his humble tent in the camps of Jindires in the countryside of Afrin, northwest of Aleppo.

In a conversation with Enab Baladi, Amairi said that monthly aid to their camp in the Jindires area had not been cut off over the past years, whereas in the village of Haifa al-Karmel, he had not received any assistance since his arrival a year ago.

He mentioned that the village lacks most humanitarian services: there is no health center, no school, no support for water, bread, or food vouchers, in addition to the absence of cleaning services after the contract of one of the supporting organizations for this sector ended.

Amairi added that he hoped his family’s situation would improve in the village, but the living conditions continue to deteriorate. He runs a small street stall in front of the residential block, selling falafel as a source of income, and has submitted numerous requests to organizations to support him with equipment to improve his profession, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Raafat from the residents of Haifa al-Karmel village preferred to return to his tent in Jindires. He said the two-story building was poorly constructed, instilled constant fear it might collapse, and the families could hear everything the neighbors said, due to the lack of real wall insulation.

Raafat added that his tent was decorated and designed like a garden. There was a decent amount of space between it and the neighbors, which he missed in the residential village. Moreover, the absence of assistance and the lack of life’s basic necessities in the village meant there were no jobs, no aids, and no services.

The activity of humanitarian organizations has recently increased in the construction of stone residential blocks as an alternative shelter for the displaced living in camps, especially after the storms that hit the areas of northwest Syria, which had catastrophic consequences for the tent dwellers. However, this has also distanced many from receiving food and relief aid.

Displacement camps in northwest Syria - January 15, 2024 (Syria Civil Defense)

Displacement camps in northwest Syria – January 15, 2024 (Syria Civil Defense)

Food is more important than roof and walls

Khaled Attawi, displaced from southern Aleppo, who recently moved to residential blocks in the mountain of Kfar Karmein west of Aleppo, said that the distinctiveness of the residential blocks is living with his relatives and feeling like he is in his village.

Despite that, the new village where Attawi resides, in the al-Nour community in Kfar Karmein mountain, suffers from the absence of humanitarian aid: there are only cement buildings with 40 square meters available for each family.

He further mentioned that it is commonly understood that residential blocks, after being readied and inhabited, need a full year before organizations enter and start providing aid to them, which has exhausted many of its residents due to their previous receipt of aid in the camps they moved from. As a result, they prefer to return to them: with the tent’s existence, eating and drinking are considered more important than a concrete house, according to Attawi.

Khalaf al-Hassan, who resides in the same residential community in Kfar Karmein, shares this viewpoint. He moved from a camp in the Kfar Yahmoul area and was receiving monthly aid, while he has not received any aid in his new residence despite being there for several months.

He mentioned that living conditions become harder day by day, amidst widespread unemployment and a significant increase in prices. He has sold several machines and properties to secure the expensive life needs, and he has no hope other than returning to his homeland. After several years of displacement, he has not felt settled for a single day, as he told Enab Baladi.

Ajyal village

The earthquake that struck southern Turkey and four Syrian provinces on February 6, 2023 has affected more than 376,000 civilians, 51,000 of whom are still residing in camps and shelters. Meanwhile, families have already begun to move into residential homes built by humanitarian organizations, according to statistics by the Syria Response Coordination Group (SRCG) working in the area.

About 40 families from various areas affected by the earthquake received housing in the Ajyal village in the al-Bardaqli area north of Idlib, where the ‘Asbl Humanitaire pour le Monde’ organization built the village, aiming to alleviate the impact of the war and earthquake on children. The design of the village suggests it is intended for children, featuring a central park filled with playground equipment.

Rajab al-Hussein, who is in his seventies, complains about the absence of aid in the village. According to him, it lacks all forms of humanitarian assistance, with an absence of water, schools, commercial shops, food aid, or heating. Most of the children travel to nearby camps to attend school under harsh weather conditions, and the roads outside the village are in very poor condition, with the area being crowded with makeshift camps.

Al-Hussein told Enab Baladi that he suffers from chronic diseases along with his wife, having lost a number of their grandchildren and children in the earthquake. He is forced to collect cartons in front of the commercial shops in the area with his motorcycle and sell them in order to buy living essentials and necessary medications. He pointed out the difficulty of the living situation and the exhaustion he faces in securing his daily needs due to his weakened body as he ages.

Displacement camps in northwest Syria - January 15, 2024 (Syria Civil Defense)

Displacement camps in northwest Syria – January 15, 2024 (Syria Civil Defense)

Better than a tent

Abdelsalam al-Naief, one of the contractors in the housing projects, told Enab Baladi that the recently built cement houses are better than tents, as tents constantly require changing insulators and tarps. However, a downside of these buildings is that their space is small and sometimes does not meet the needs of larger families.

He added that donor organizations are looking to build the largest number of cement houses at the lowest possible cost, even at the expense of quality. He gave an example that the cement houses are now similar to cities next to the main cities in northern Syria, especially in the border areas near Turkey. These newly formed communities need all kinds of services and humanitarian assistance.

Most residents in northwest Syria suffer from poor living conditions, with the recognized poverty line reaching 9,314 Turkish liras, and the extreme poverty line at 6,981 Turkish liras.

The unemployment rate has reached 88.74% on average (with day-labor work considered within the mentioned categories), while the minimum wage in Idlib, where the Salvation Government is in control, and the rural areas of Aleppo, where the Interim Government has control, ranges between 1,140 and 1,500 Turkish liras (the dollar being 31 Turkish liras).

 

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