A Syrian refugee woman holds her child in the refugee camp of Bab El Salama, between the Syrian town of Azaz and the Turkish town of Kilis. Photo by Reuters
Huddled inside thin plastic tents in a makeshift camp after
fleeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's bombs thousands of
refugees say they face a new enemy.
"The cold is killing us," many of them say.
Having survived a conflict in which more than 40,000 people
are estimated to have been killed, refugees at the Bab
al-Salameh camp on the Syrian-Turkish border say the winter
is now a bigger threat to them than the violence engulfing
"The situation here is even worse than being at home," said
Waad Orfali, a 27-year-old woman, dressed in a pink
headscarf, velvet pink gown and slippers, as rain pounded the
"At least in the village there was a doctor," said Orfali,
who escaped from the northern village of Marea about two
weeks ago after snipers and air strikes forced her and her
family to relocate to the relative safety of the camp.
The flimsy tents scattered across the encampment offer scant
relief to the thousands of men, women and children facing
freezing weather and constant rain, and colder conditions are
still to come.
Earlier this month, the United Nations refugee agency said
more than half a million Syrian refugees are registered or
waiting in other Middle Eastern countries, with about 3,000
new people seeking refugee status and assistance daily.
"I'm three months pregnant and I've been bleeding," said
Orfali, who suffered from mouth sores. She said her husband
suffered from kidney stones, but that neither had been able
to receive medical care at the camp.
"At home there's no water or electricity and it's the same
thing here," another woman chimed.
Tents reeked of damp as the rain seeped through, soaking
blankets, clothes and rugs, and with no electricity in the
camp, children, many wearing a single layer of clothing and
slippers with no socks, shivered in the cold.
Mothers complained they received little food. By the
afternoon, they said breakfast had not even been distributed.
With no running water, lavatories near the mosque stank of
rubbish and sewage.
"Tell them Syria's people are full of lice," said Um Ali, a
mother of 12, said. She carried her ID papers in plastic to
protect them from the rain in the hope that she could use
them to get supplies from the camp authorities for her
'We just want the slaughter to stop'
Some refugees here are trying to scrape together a living
amid the misery. They set up stands to sell cigarettes, and
children zigzag through the tents hawking sweets and
IHH, a Turkish relief group, is running the camp. Shawkat
Gukman, the IHH coordinator at Bab al-Salameh, said the camp
housed about 870 tents and 6,000 people with about 200 people
streaming through each day.
Gukman said IHH had not been entirely in charge of running
the camp until recently. He said some 5,000 pairs of
children's shoes had been given out.
Challenging conditions like a lack of water and electricity
made food preparation and distribution particularly
challenging, Gukman said.
"The crisis may last for years. It's not clear but the war
could last for a longer time."
As the war continues, more Syrians are expected to flee.
The latest estimates indicate that the total number of
Syrians who have fled during the conflict has already
surpassed the 700,000 refugees that the UNHCR forecast by
year-end, though more than 200,000 of them have not
registered formally. Another 2.5 million or more are believed
to be displaced inside Syria.
Um Ahmed, a mother of five girls and two boys, said she moved
to the Bab al-Salameh camp four months ago from the Hanano
district of Aleppo.
"When we first came, we were sleeping under the tyres of
trucks. The sun burned us," she told Reuters in her
three-by-four metre tent, where she had lit a coal fire and
was grilling onions she said would help fight her children's
Dressed in a purple sweater and red wool skirt, Um Ahmed said
she had been a supporter of Assad at the beginning of the
conflict, now in its 21st month.
"He said there wouldn't be a drop of blood, and now there's a
river of blood. So now I'm the most opposed to Assad after
what I've seen with my eyes," she said.
Like many other refugees thrust into dire conditions, Um
Ahmed has tried to keep some semblance of a home in her tent.
In a vain effort to keep the tent dry, a mop is perched
against the tent's corner, and there is a red basin to bathe
in. One side of the tent is decorated with the Syrian rebels'
Complaining of chaotic scenes when the camp authorities
distribute supplies, she said: "We have too much pride and
dignity," to push through queues.
"We don't want money, food or water," she said. "We just want
the slaughter to stop. We dream of going back home."