'It's A Disaster': Life Inside A Syrian Refugee Camp | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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 Some packets are out of date — and the cheese smells bad.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

'American Crime' And 'The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' Highlight The TV Revolution

Tina Fey co-created the quirky comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for Netflix; John Ridley made the emotionally raw drama American Crime for ABC. TV critic David Bianculli says they're both good.
NPR

Dump The Lumps: The World Health Organization Says Eat Less Sugar

WHO says there's strong evidence that excessive sugar is bad for us. So it's recommending that we cut back significantly.
NPR

House Approves Amtrak Funding, Rewrites Rules To Allow Furry Riders

The bill freezes funding at current levels for four years, and lets some pets ride the rails with their owners. It also separates the high-ridership Northeast Corridor from the rest of the system.
WAMU 88.5

Transportation App Bridj Has Bus-Sized Ambitions For D.C.

It works similar to other ride-sharing apps, in that you establish a location and destination, and order a ride. But you'll be shown where to catch a Bridj bus, instead of getting a vehicle at your door.

Leave a Comment

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