For years, northwest Syria has been home to millions of civilians fleeing conflict and bloodshed elsewhere. Whether they arrived by choice or through evacuation deals negotiated by Russia, the arrivals knew that after Idlib, they had nowhere else to go. That remains true today. As regime and Russian airstrikes bombard the region, around 180,000 people have been displaced since 29 April, fleeing ongoing airstrikes. But with the border to Turkey closed, there is only so far they can move. These are the diaries of two women, one displaced and one helping the displaced, who are trapped in northwest Syria.
“I don’t know what to say nor how to start. We said we would resist and wouldn’t leave our homes in Kafra Sajna—that it was going to be over soon, today or tomorrow. But every day passing felt like a lifetime for us; each new day was worse than the day before. We were trying to remain strong, but eventually we fled our village, taking my grandparents with us. My grandfather, who has cancer, kept saying: “Where are we going? We should stay here and die at home.
“More than 50 other families fled with us. We headed to Atmeh by the Turkish border. People who fled Kafra Sajna before us found a small area for us to camp on. When we arrived, some families had tents, others didn’t because they couldn’t afford them so they took shelter in the open. I was very worried about how I’d protect my months-old daughter from insect bites, dust, and direct sunlight. In Kafra Sajna, I used to give her a bath every other day, I missed those days when I’d put her to sleep in her clean bed, and have her wear clean clothes, her pretty summer clothes that I couldn’t carry with me.
“We say we’re going to be fine, but we don’t have bathrooms or basic utilities like running water and electricity. We’re fasting right now for Ramadan but when we break our fast after starving all day, we only eat a little to avoid having to use the open-air toilets. We’re trying to save our dignity here, it’s all we have left.”
Aya is from Kafr Sajna, northern Hama. Two weeks ago, she was displaced to the Syrian-Turkish border with her family.
“Since 29 April, escalating attacks by the Syrian regime and Russia have forced tens of thousands of families to flee their homes, the majority from northern Hama countryside. On 9 May, we went to the highway that leads to the Turkish border and saw families fleeing in trucks. I can’t describe how heartbreaking the scene was. No words or photos can adequately reflect the horrible reality. Just one look inside the trucks made me feel all the pain in the world—seeing children, the elderly, people with disabilities fleeing with the few belongings they could carry.
“The humanitarian situation is dire. Hundreds of families are struggling to find a piece of land to shelter on. The weather is getting hotter and children are exposed to dirt and insects. A flimsy tent to shelter under has become a dream for some families, imagine!
“We started cooking meals for displaced families at our centres because all the shops in the area have closed due to the bombings. Despite the jets in the sky we went out to the highway to distribute the meals. We didn’t fear for ourselves once we saw the massive wave of people fleeing.
“This crisis we’re witnessing needs immediate funding from governments and we can’t wait for international organisations to take their time to respond. We encourage everyone here to do what they can to provide some relief to those displaced, to show them that we are here for them, that we won’t just stand and watch them suffer. We’re all in this together.”
Aisha Touma is the founder and manager of Yasmeenat Souriyat (Syrian Jasmines), a group of 12 displaced women from six different cities across Syria who help welcome internally displaced people into their new communities. In partnership with Maan organisation, Yasmeenat Souriyat are providing meals for newly displaced families fasting during Ramadan with no access to food or shelter.