Refugees battle 'horrendous' conditions on Syrian border

Jan 10, 2013

'Animals live better than this in the West,' says doctor shocked by death and despair at Camp Atmeh

SYRIAN families are paying a terrible price for fleeing their homes to live in a makeshift refugee camp on the Turkish border, The Times reports today.

With the onset of winter, conditions are deteriorating rapidly for those who have fled the slaughter in their towns and villages, says reporter Martin Fletcher.

Camp Atmeh in northern Syria is home to more than 12,000 refugees, 4,000 of them children under 12, with more families arriving following each regime atrocity.

Heavy rains have turned the camp into a swamp of red mud and this week refugees faced bitter winds and snow. Tents and ragged clothes offer little protection. Refugees live ten or 12 to a tent. Often there is too little food to go round.

"It is a measure of the horrors they have suffered that these refugees prefer Atmeh to their homes," says Fletcher, who describes the camp as an "affront to humanity".

There is no electricity or running water and tents regularly catch fire. Two infants perished in a blazing tent last month and one couple lost six of their eight children on New Year's Day when a candle fell over and set fire to their tent.

"What can I say? We left our homes to save the children from bombardment, and they die in a fire," the family's cousin, Hassan al-Haider, told the Times.

Others suffer from respiratory illnesses, as well as phobias, anxiety and depression induced by trauma. Diarrhoea is common among the children, baby milk is scarce.

"It's horrendous," said a charity doctor, who asked not to be identified. "In the West even animals live in better conditions, and that's the truth."

But Fletcher reports that for all their wretchedness, he met not a single refugee who regretted the 22-month-old uprising or wanted it to stop before the regime is defeated.

"Truth and justice must prevail," Hassan al-Haider told him. "This is our destiny. Allah makes us suffer like this to test us."

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