Filed Under:

'It's A Disaster': Life Inside A Syrian Refugee Camp

Play associated audio

It's early afternoon when the sun is bright, and it's finally warm enough to come outside. This tent camp on a hill overlooking the Turkish border, near the Syrian town of Atma, houses more than 14,000 displaced Syrians.

The water here is trucked in, and it's the only source. Women line up with plastic jugs to haul the daily delivery back to the tents. What is striking are the children — in dirty clothes and summer shoes, faces red and raw from the cold.

There are no international aid agencies here. Private donors supplied the tents, but there's never enough, says Mohammed al-Najar, a schoolteacher who arrived 50 days ago after his village in Idlib province was bombed. He says there's a new arrival every day.

"You need to stay without a tent, one day, maybe two days," he says.

That's an improvement from the summer, when everyone in this camp slept outside in an olive grove. They were Syrians on the run, but they were refused entry to Turkey because those camps were full.

'Like A Small Town'

This camp is run by Syrian activists who raised money for tents and food. Then they recruited Syrian rebels who now guard the vulnerable population, mostly women and children. It's getting better, says Syrian-American Yatzen Shishakly, one of the volunteers working at the camp. But it's still cold, muddy and wet, he says.

"The camp itself is just like a small town now, and you have people selling stuff," he says. "We have security. We have all kind of people, but that doesn't mean we are doing good."

A truck rolls through the dirt tracks with vegetables for sale. There's also a small food stall with produce — lettuce, some oranges, cauliflower, eggs — spread out on a blanket.

But most survive on shared daily donated rations — bread, jam, yogurt and cheese. Some packets are out of date — and the cheese smells bad.

Nidal Khalouf has a plan for better food distribution. He's a big man in military fatigues. He left a business in Romania to help out because he has family in Syria.

"We have a lot of problems with food," he says.

Threat Of Winter

We walk down a dirt path to see the kitchen he's building with donated gas burners and huge cooking pots. But with limited support, the biggest threat is still the winter, Shishakly says.

"Well, it is a disaster, last week, when it rained, it was a disaster," he says. "When it's cold, we don't have enough blankets. You hear the kids crying in our camp."

There are more than 3,000 children here, says Hana, an engineer from Aleppo, who only gives her first name to protect her family in Syria. She drew up the plans for the camp and works as the chief administrator. An activist who once planned demonstrations in Aleppo, she now works to get heat and light turned on here.

"We see if the sun is go down, you cannot see," she says. "And they fall down. They get injured. It's very bad. We start to talk to Turkish government to support us a little electricity."

She says Turkey hasn't yet agreed.

Yet every day it gets colder and more Syrians arrive, only adding to the misery.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

A Grisly, Humorous Dissection Of Morality In 'Anatomy Theatre'

It was once thought that evil resided inside the body. So murderers were dissected to find it. That macabre practice is the subject of a dark but funny new opera, "Anatomy Theatre."
NPR

Can Arnold Schwarzenegger Persuade China To Eat Less Meat?

Like the U.S., China is battling obesity and climate change. So it's urging citizens to eat less meat — and spreading the word with public service ads featuring Hollywood stars.
NPR

Trump Lags Behind Clinton In 'Ground Game' Support

When running for office, you need a good "ground game." Some say Trump lacks what's needed to get out the vote. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Rob Jesmer, formerly with the RNC, about what that means.
NPR

President Obama Acknowledges 'Brexit' To Silicon Valley Crowd

President Obama delivered a speech Friday at Stanford University, and remarked on the Brexit vote in front of a crowd of young, tech-forward, pro-globalization attendees from 170 countries.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.