May 22, 2013

Several months ago, Hussein Alwawi was living in Aleppo with his family. But, he recalls, “A warplane attacked our neighborhood and lots of houses were destroyed, including ours. We were not at home at the time, but two families were killed.”

Five days later, he and his family set out towards Syria’s border with Turkey. They found an ad hoc settlement that now hosts some 10,000 displaced Syrians, more than double the number who’d been there at the beginning of the year. While it is officially known as a “transit camp,” it would be more accurate to call it a camp for internally displaced people, or IDPs.

Driven from their homes by the war, most of these IDPs now live in tents set up in a field formerly occupied by a customs office, though Alwawi and his family found sanctuary inside a mosque. In a quest to create some sense of normalcy, people have set up barbershops and foodstalls, even a school for the children.

Not far from a field where a spirited soccer game is taking place, however, a group of women tell their stories and make it clear that there is little normal about this situation. “We came here because of the shelling and the helicopter attacks, and also because I’m a widow and I have nothing,” says Saleha Mustafa, 44, as she heats lentil soup on a stove. She says she relies on help from her cousins, who are also in the camps, and will follow their lead in the days ahead. “I will go to Turkey if that’s what my family wants,” she says.

As in most displacement situations, there are numerous health needs. Teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have carried out water and sanitation activities in the camp, and MSF medical staff have vaccinated more than 3,300 children under 15 against measles, a disease that can spread quickly in overcrowded conditions.

Nearby, a man named Mohammed sips a cup of coffee in front of the tent where he, his wife, and their five children have been living for the past three months. They fled Aleppo because of the constant airstrikes and rocket attacks, which terrified his children.

“I would like to go to Turkey with my family,” he says, because he believes it’s safer. Whether they go or stay, however, he believes that the trauma engulfing his country will not abate any time soon. “The things going on in Syria right now will stay in the children’s minds for a long time to come,” he says.

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