Syrian refugee camps swell as frustrations rise

2012-08-09 07:41

Yayladagi - His two-story house with a garden became a military post when government forces moved into his village in north-eastern Syria. More than a year has passed for Amin Idlibi and his family, now sharing a crowded tent in a Turkish refugee camp, and the limbo of more than 250,000 others who have fled Syria's civil war into neighbouring countries.

"Time passes so slowly here as we wait to return home," said Idlibi, a 58-year-old retired civil servant as he sat in this camp on the edge of a Turkish farming community, one of eight Turkish-run camps that have taken in thousands more refugees just in the past week.

And the numbers are likely to rise.

A government offensive Wednesday against rebel strongholds in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, could touch off another major exodus into nearby Turkey. In Jordan, authorities are straining to build more camps to accommodate refugees from Syria's south - where the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began more than 17 months ago. On one recent night alone, an estimated 4,000 Syrians arrived in Jordan.

In Jordan's Zataari camp, opened just two weeks ago on a desolate desert plain, some 3,300 displaced Syrians have raised complaints about conditions that include dust storms and tents that are home to snakes and scorpions.

"Death camp," said a sign in Arabic stuck on a tent bearing the U.N. refugee agency's blue emblem.

"In Syria, it's a quick death," explained a 30-year-old refugee who gave his name as Abu Sami, as he and other Syrians gathered to protest the conditions. "But here in Zataari camp, it's a slow death for us all. We escaped shelling and bombardment of our homes and now face this torment."

So far, the flight from Syria has not brought the humanitarian crises that gripped battlefields such as the Balkans or Afghanistan. Many among the first wave of refugees were absorbed into communities in Jordan and Lebanon, which now have at least 200,000 displaced Syrians between them. In Turkey, officials have set up camps that now hold about 50,000 Syrians. Smaller numbers have fled to Iraq.

The U.N. refugee agency puts the overall figure of the displaced at 115,000, but officials acknowledge this only counts Syrians who have registered as refugees and not the tens of thousands of others who have blended into communities.

The U.N. and others worry about countries becoming overwhelmed as the Syrian conflict drags on.

Reflecting concerns the refugee crisis could easily stretch into another winter, the European Union pledged $6.1 million (€5 million) last month to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and France said it plans to send military medical teams to Jordan. In Saudi Arabia — a strong backer of the Syrian rebels — a five-day telethon last month raised more than $70 million for refugees.

In the Turkish camp in Yayladagi, a refugee who identified himself as Yassin said he feels even more alone during the current holy month of Ramadan, which includes a sunset meal to break the daylong fast.

"I used to break my fast with my family in Syria. Here I am like an orphan," said the 32-year-old, whose family is still in Syria. "A day is as long as a year."

Each of the Turkish camps has a clinic, mosque, playground for children, bathrooms and showers. Every tent has a small refrigerator, a fan and cooking gas where families prepare their own food. Families in Yayladagi can also buy televisions or other extras in the nearby village, if they can afford it. Not far from the camp, cattle graze near fields of wheat and fruit trees.

Still, the crowded conditions take a toll.

"My life is miserable in the tent" said Haj Abdul-Karim, a drawing instructor from the Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughour, which was overrun by Syrian forces 14 months ago. He now shares a tent with nine family members. "We usually squeeze ourselves to be able to sleep, but now in the summer some of us sleep outside."

In Kilis, another Turkish border town, authorities responded to a protest about camp conditions by deporting some refugees to a desert camp near Urfa, where living conditions are more austere, refugees said.

"Turkish people are hospitable and generous. Still, our lives in the camps are difficult," said a woman in Yayladagi, who identified herself as Um Ahmad. "The most important thing for me is to return to my country, even if I am going to be eating sand there."

In Jordan, officials have been taking precautions to try to protect refugees amid suspicions that Assad's regime is trying to extend its crackdown into Jordan. Both Jordanian officials and the Syrian refugees believe Syrian agents are operating in the kingdom on a campaign to hunt down activists and other opponents, and intimidate those who have fled.

Refugees who once stayed in an apartment complex used as an initial processing centre and owned by a Jordanian businessman reported two attempts earlier this year to poison their water supply.

The complex had to be abandoned after security officials arrested a man in June for trying to plant a bomb under the car of the Jordanian owner, Nidal Bashabsheh, who had been actively helping Syrian refugees.

Late last month, a 6-year-old Syrian boy was shot and killed by the Syrian military as he made the treacherous border crossing with his family.
At Jordan's Zataari camp, winds carrying orange desert sand whip through the tents, covering everything and everyone. Many refugees say they can neither breathe easily nor stay clean and healthy.

Um Nadia, a 26-year-old pregnant mother of two toddlers, suffers from asthma and worries for her health and that of her family. "Listen to my voice. I'm suffering. I'm constantly coughing," she said.

"I can't stand it anymore and that's only after three days here. I'm very sick from the weather and this dust," said the slender woman, her voice raspy, adding that she had to be fed intravenously in the camp's medical clinic.

"But what about my young children?" she asked. "They will surely contract bronchitis or some other sort of disease themselves."
Jordanian authorities refused to respond to allegations of poor conditions in the camps. The U.N. refugee agency's representative in Jordan, Andrew Harper, acknowledged conditions in the tent cities were not ideal, but promised improvements to help ease the challenging conditions.

"It's a very tough, terrible place to be, but every day we'll make it better," he said. "We just need everyone to remain calm and to be sure that we keep moving forward in the right way."

  • J.Stephen.Whiteley - 2012-08-09 08:37

    The innocent, who do not deserve this in their spiritual development, will get kharmic credits

  • gieljam.gomtor - 2012-08-09 09:18

    The Sad side of this story is that no one will agree and correct the problem as all of this can be laid at the door of a belief.

  • fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-09 09:20 and Last night's programs.

  • AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-08-09 09:34

    The suffering of the Syrian population is heartbreaking, but for sure the Syrian children will have a better life, one without TYRANNY AND FEAR !!

  • Desilusionada - 2012-08-09 11:00

    "Each of the Turkish camps has a clinic, mosque, playground for children, bathrooms and showers. Every tent has a small refrigerator, a fan and cooking gas where families prepare their own food. " Cynically speaking, better than the army camps we used to live in under conscription law during the PW era. While it is a shame and sad that this is necessary as a result of ideologist and their expression of power, it is even worse that all the anti-west proponents are now silent. No condemnation of the western money (of which a large portion comes from the EU) spent on these refugees? And will they also be left corrupted for taking said money? (This is so if man has to believe previous posters on N24) Perhaps the callers for war and jihad and driving people into the sea and grabbing land and nationalization should just pause for a moment and reflect on what a non-democratic regime, ruling in a dictatorial manner, brings about. Or should the west just stand aside and watch genocide?..

  • peanutcluster - 2012-08-09 12:12

    Fred & Anthony do you believe that Saudi is financing the free Syria army out of a desire to liberate the Syrian people and to spread democracy in the region?

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-09 15:34

      I'm more concerned that the US is not doing enough to help them, and glad others are. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I dislike the chauvinistic, paternalistic and nepotistic ideology of the Saudi regime too, and am not happy that change there is happening so slowly. Women will be allowed to drive soon. Woohoo! But let's be clear, it is not butchering tens of thousands of Saudi citizens. And Saudi citizens themselves have not taken to the streets demanding change. This thread however is about Syria, and the help Syrians need. It is not about Saudi Arabia.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-08-09 15:37

      No, I don't believe that, but I am glad that at least someone is helping the opposition , including the FSA, to overthrow this assad MONSTER. At the beginning of this uprising, the opposition demanded that NOBODY , outside Syrias got involved in THEIR liberation, but after these rubbish Russians and Iranians are not only sending military hardware, but also experts/advisers, on how to KILL as many opoosition memebers in the shortest possible time, they now are asking help, FROM WHOMEVER !!!!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-09 17:08

      A question for you: what is the difference between a peanut gallery and a peanut cluster?

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