Scattered in the stony hills of Idlib, forgotten by almost everyone, displaced Syrians are struggling to survive with the eternal thought of returning to the forcibly abandoned towns and villages.
The view from the hill towards Kah Ahrabat reminds you of a foamy stream that floods the sculpted valley, as houses and tents are scattered and irregularly occupy the whole area. A compact set of houses and tents hide the narrow aisles found between the buildings.
Plastics cover the ceilings to protect them from the rain, while photovoltaic panels ignite houses or tents after the war, and bombings destroy all electricity infrastructure. Scarce water supplies are distributed by aquifers or wells distributed in the area.
Up on the hill, the Syrian shepherd who sees everything with the herd he brought from his hometown looks beyond the hills, perhaps looking for his village and home.
On the damaged roads that our armored vehicle can hardly traverse, the shops almost empty of goods go right and left between the numerous garages for cars and two wheels, which are the majority of vehicles and move chaotically.
Children in this anarchic settlement of 60,000 homes, carrying their bags are heading to school. Small clans which, like every child in the world, walk carelessly on muddy paths and fields.
Women who wear the traditional clothes of the Arab world, alone or in groups, talk, go shopping and look at us with curiosity. The men, some climbing on the roofs of houses and others preparing the cement mix, continue their work as they look at us rather indifferently, and then there are those who greet us after recognizing the signs of escort machines.
The road was difficult until we reached the AFAD-built settlement in the Meshed Ruhin area, our first stop for a closer look at the daily lives of refugees.
The settlement accommodates people with disabilities with their families. It was the first priority for the people of AFAD, as the Deputy Governor of Hatay, Eyyüp Batuhan Ciğerci, explained to me.
I chose to wander only to get lost and mingle with the refugees as much as possible. The little Arabic I could speak became my ally, along with a child who became my shadow and almost never forgot me as I walked through the settlement.
I left the only paved road that was completed at the time as the rest were under construction, and was curiously looking at the details of the houses. Built to avoid problems from rain and floods, a roof tank for water and photovoltaics for electricity. However I could not see the interior, as the houses are inhabited and cultural norms forbid uninvited guests.
Children, like all children in the world, were playing. Some of them had batons in their hands for weapons and were fighting; I ask myself. Others got on motorcycles and pretended to ride them. If you can change the location, they may have been children from all over the world.
Looking through the streets I found myself in a P-shaped building with many small rooms, some of them still under construction, others full of Arabic books and some rooms almost ready to receive students.
In front of the school lies a large alley where shoppers have gathered their produce. So many people. Clothes, shoes, spices, toys and more are scattered everywhere. Classic motorcycles and cars are moving among falling pedestrians and causing a riot that is very similar to that of any other market in the world.
At the bottom of the field stands the mosque, a place of prayer and communication with the deities, a final hope for salvation and help. Outside the mosque, a Syrian in his wheelchair is looking at me. I salute him in Arabic. He calls me over, opens a basket and gives me a hot Arabian pie full of hot vegetables. He tells of the furnace that is still burning. I took the pie and thanked him. It was not the first time I had received such an offer from a foreigner in a Muslim country. I had tried it in Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and elsewhere. But in these circumstances, it was truly something unique.
Time passed and I went through the settlement for the last time, as always with the young man next to me. A motorcycle passed in front of me. The rider stopped in front of the makeshift gas station where the cans waited for customers to pick up fuel. He filled his tank with a funnel.
As we were getting ready to leave, the kids who attended the rest of our mission pulled us out looking to take a picture with us. Our next destination was waiting so we left the refugee settlement, which, according to the tenants themselves, is managed by the council of elders in a special form of self-government.
The next stop was the Turkish Red Crescent settlements where, according to Hakan Sari, a 39-square-meter house with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom will be handed over in late February. Being kind hosts, the Red Crescent men offered us tea and refreshments, sitting in one of the backyards eagerly awaiting their new residents.
And if the houses built by AFAD, the Turkish Red Crescent and other NGOs were a ray of light in the dark days of the refugees, there are still refugees living in tents, in miserable conditions. It is not always possible to make your wishes come true, but it is worth the effort.
Undoubtedly the 9 busy hours I spent in the refugee settlements did not make me fully aware of the situation. I did not see everything; I did not hear all sides of the story; I did not understand everything.
Neither time was enough, nor did I visit all parts of the area inhabited by almost 4 million refugees; I did not speak to most of them, although AFAD and the Red Crescent had provided translators to contact Syrians and ask anything.
But what should a refugee ask? How is life? What do they want? What are they missing? What are their hopes? But you can clearly see them all in their eyes, in their lost smile, in the borrowed houses or tents waiting for them until the nightmare is over which, however, has lasted for years.
And what if they tell some reporters? Will anything change in their daily lives? After all, those who should have heard, seen and solved their problems have never stopped. They sit in their warm offices and study reports, numbers, income and expenses, to organize another program that will remove the guilt that should burden them, being good religious people and all.
The Idlib area, with more than 4 million Syrians displaced from the east of the country, is currently a relatively safe area, although the military regime that controls the area is undefined. When I asked the soldiers who were accompanying us for security, they said they were Syrians as I was impressed that they did not have a symbol on their military uniforms while the license plates of moving cars were also Syrian. They certainly did not belong to Assad’s army.
Turkey, which has received strong criticism from some governments and the media for its involvement in the Syrian crisis, is the only country, based on what I saw and recorded – that has had a positive intervention in resolving the humanitarian crisis in the Idlib region. .
Through AFAD, the Red Crescent and other Turkish NGOs, there is support and care for Syrian refugees by building refugee camps, strengthening the local economy and creating a safe environment in an area that is safe but not easily.
Perhaps, if not for sure, latent motives can certainly be found in the Turkish government’s policy choices in war zones on the Turkish-Syrian border. This is what the three main Turkish military operations in Syria show, as they aimed to create a security zone on the Turkish-Syrian border and disrupt the flow of refugees inside Turkey, which now numbers 3.6 million Syrians and another 600,000 groups. ethnic, Asian and African. A difficult situation that would be further exacerbated by new influxes of refugees from an uncontrolled civil war in which several Western countries are involved.
Much has been written about Syria and much more will be written in the future. Policies, consequences, geopolitical changes will be analyzed, but most of them will make no reference to the souls of innocent people who, suddenly and without them being responsible, lost their world.
Despite the many hardships that arise from living in these conditions, in tents or houses built by the organization, always with the fear of an armed attack and the shadow of death hovering over the settlements, the hope and desire for life empowers the refugees. /ibna