Facing a Harsh First Winter in a Refugee Camp

 Emergency Response
 31st Oct 2019

Photo: ©Fatima Azzeh/CARE

While Ali* was at his house in al-Darbasiyah, a border town in north-east Syria, fighting broke out and bombings began. The women and children left the town on the same day to a village 20 kilometers away, while the men stayed behind. As the fighting continued for the next few days, Ali decided to take his pregnant wife, Merdin*, and two-year-old daughter, Yara*, to the city of Hassakeh, where they stayed with relatives for a week.

“We could not stay as guests with our relatives for much longer. Yara tripped over a gas burner in the living room and burnt one of her legs from top to bottom when boiling hot tea came pouring down on her. When you are a guest, you cannot tell people what to do in their house. We could not afford renting a place for ourselves either. The few houses that are still vacant in Hassakeh are expensive because most people fled there,” says Ali.

After agreeing with a smuggler to take them across the border into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), Ali and his family left Syria at night. The journey cost them 200 US Dollars per person, which the poorest, most vulnerable families inside Syria cannot afford. Within an hour, the family were on the other side of the border and were met by KRI’s military forces. They stayed in a mosque for a night, then were brought to Bardarash Camp.

“It is safe here. We are not afraid anymore, but conditions are unhygienic and we cannot find basic things, like milk or diapers for my daughter. There is no water in the toilets and barely any medical treatment. I cannot get burn medication for Yara. I took her to the health clinic in the camp and they wrapped up her leg in bandages. She is in pain and cries a lot, but there is nothing they can do for her here,” he says.

Photo: Ali, 34, sits with his two-year-old daughter, Yara, outside their tent in Bardarash camp. Yara’s leg was burnt from top to bottom with a boiling teapot when her family was displaced in Hassakeh city. She cries whenever she meets new people, worrying they might be doctors. Ali and his wife are worried about spending their first winter in a tent in a refugee camp, where heavy rain is common. ©Fatima Azzeh/CARE

Merdin approaches and sits with us. She is eight months pregnant. When asked about whether she could give birth in the Camp, she says, “I would have to be given a permit to go to a hospital outside the Camp. There are no deliveries here. My first daughter was a cesarean delivery and they told me that my second will be the same.”

Ali’s sister lives in the neighboring governorate of Erbil and the family would like to eventually go there. “We are worried about the upcoming winter. Heavy rain and thunderstorms are common here. It is the first time we leave our house and spend the winter somewhere else. Our tent will flood with water no doubt,” he adds.

*All names have been changed to protect identities.

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