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Syria: Humanitarian Fund series - “Living here has taught me how strong I really am.”

07 Aug 2019


Photos and story by Hedinn Halldorsson. Interview by Joumana Hout. 

We have only one wish and that is to return home,

says 55-year-old Abu Mohamad, a father of eight, in Tal Serdam camp, a site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Aleppo Governorate. He sits in the shade outside his family’s tents with his wife, children and grandchildren.

All in all, we are 25 people, living in five tents. My youngest grandchild, a one-year old, is born in the camp,

he adds.

Tal Serdam in Fafin in northern Aleppo governorate, is currently home to 3,600 IDPs from Afrin district. Abu Mohamad’s family is among 750 families in the camp, who live only 30-40 km away from their area of origin, Afrin.

In January 2018, almost 150,000 people were forced to flee their homes in Afrin district and make their way to Tall Refaat, Nabul, Zahra and Fafin areas, during a military operation by opposition fighters, supported by the Turkish Armed Forces. A year and a half later, the IDPs from Afrin district remain in precarious conditions in destroyed dwellings or in IDP sites. They live with a fear of retaliation and with their movement between Aleppo city and Afrin restricted.

Children in Tal Serdam camp, Fafin, northern rural Aleppo. Living conditions in the camp are harsh, and people rely mainly on humanitarian assistance, partly funded by the SHF, to survive.

We fled Afrin on foot due to the shelling. That was one year and four months ago and we’ve been here since,

says Abu Mohamad’s daughter, the mother of his youngest grandchild.

I worry that our children will get sick in the heat or from drinking contaminated water.

More than eight years into one of the biggest displacement crises of our times, the capacity to provide basic health care in Syria has been severely compromised. Measles, acute bloody diarrhoea and typhoid fever have been reported in the governorate. The crisis has also led to a resurgence of diseases associated with malnutrition, population displacement, poor housing, a weak immune system and lack of financial resources such as leishmaniasis.

Tal Serdam camp residents have access to a mobile health clinic that provides them with the most basic services. Complicated and acute health issues need to be addressed elsewhere – and that poses a challenge due to the restricted movement.

"Living in the camp has not changed me", Umm Rasheed tells OCHA's Joumana Hout, "but it made me realize how strong I am".

Besides health concerns, there are other risks that pose a threat.

I’m so afraid my son Rasheed will get bitten by a snake when he’s out playing. He’s only four and there are rats and snakes here,

says his mother, Umm Rasheed.

She left Afrin after fighting had confined her to her home for 58 days. Her husband is away because of the lentil harvest season, to earn an income. “I do wonder if we’ll ever see Afrin again,” Umm Rasheed comments. She and her neighbours while their days exchanging memories of home.

Living here has not changed me, but it may have taught me how strong I actually am,

she adds.

Tal Serdam is one of 57 sites for IDPs across Aleppo governorate. Tents cover the area as far as the eye can see. Most people have sought protection in patches of shade from the harsh sunlight and the stifling heat. A group of children has gathered around one of the water pumps to collect water.

A girl fetches water from a water point in Tal Serdam camp, Fafin, Northern rural Aleppo.

The Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF) has helped to make life a bit more comfortable for the residents of the camp. It funded the Danish Refugee Council to install latrines and showers, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide legal assistance, and the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, to truck in drinking water.

SHF also provided money to OXFAM and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to raise awareness about hygiene in the camp’s context. Funds were also provided to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to bring water tanks, and to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to distribute buckets, soap and jerry cans.

Thanks to the Syria Humanitarian Fund, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) provided water tanks for camp residents.

When we first arrived, we got some non-food items, blankets and mattresses. Now, we get food parcels on a regular basis,

says Abu Mohamad.

Two of his sons work as day labourers in agriculture and construction.

“They take any job on offer and get paid between 3,000-4,000 Syrian pounds per day ($6-8)”,

says Abu Mohamad, as he massages the stub on his right foot.

“I lost my foot back in the 1980s when I was in the army. Now if I had a prosthetic limb, I might even be able to work like them instead of sitting here.”


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