Syrians 'Trapped' in Overcrowded Tent Camps Forced to Trade Final Possessions so Children Can Eat

Russian-led airstrikes reportedly saw at least 18 people killed on Tuesday in northwest Syria, where tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee violence.

Among the victims: a family of eight, including six children, who were killed in the rural village of Kfar Taal, west of Aleppo, and another four civilians who were killed in Maardabseh in the southeast of Idlib province, according to Reuters.

With the latest ceasefire attempt in northwestern Syria failing to bring violence in the opposition-held Idlib province to a halt, many of those displaced by the conflict have told humanitarian workers they only have one real ally in this fight: the weather.

After the ceasefire negotiated between Turkey, which has long backed Syrian rebels, and Russia, failed to take hold, Médecins Sans Frontières Project Coordinator for Syria Cristian Reynders told Newsweek that most Syrians fleeing the fighting would have been more "surprised if the ceasefire would have helped."

"We have this type of situation now, where, today...the people in Idlib, or at least the ones we've been talking to, they always refer to the weather as their main ally," Reynders said.

The weather, he explained, is one of the few ways many Syrians feel they can predict whether bombs might drop over their heads, with clear sunny skies often being a bad omen, while thick clouds mean the skies may be too overcast for a bombardment.

With ceasefires repeatedly failing to hold, many people "have lost hope with the international community providing them with a longlasting solution," Reynders said. "So, this is their main ally, it's something that is not human. It's the weather."

The MSF project coordinator said he would never forget a recent conversation with a man who asked what the weather was like in Belgium. "I was saying, it's cloudy, rainy, most of the time. When I told him this, he said, 'that's amazing. When the weather is like this, we know we won't have airstrikes or we'll have less airstrikes. We want to have Belgium weather 365 days.' That's what he replied."

That man, Reynders said, was one of many to flee fighting in the region only to be met with the increasingly desperate conditions at overcrowded tent camps struggling to shelter Syrians who have nowhere else to go.

"Demographically speaking, it's very difficult. Everybody seems to agree that the population in the [Idlib Governorate] is three million people, which is three times more than Brussels. So, you put three cities in Brussels and get this number," Reynders said. "They don't have nowhere to go. They cannot go east, they cannot go west, they cannot go north and they cannot go south."

As a result, he said, many families are struggling just to ensure their children go fed at the makeshift camps.

Idlib
People who fled Syria's Idlib province are pictured at a camp in Kafr Lusin near the border with Turkey in the northern part of the province on September 9, 2018. AREF TAMMAWI/AFP/Getty

"They are constantly forced to make choices, but choices like...'Will I choose to sleep on the mattress, but with an empty stomach? Or will I sell the mattress, but sleep on the gravel, but maybe be able to buy some food, maybe not for me, but for my children?' These are the constant choices that are being made today," Reynders said.

Displaced Syrians, he said, should not be forced to decide whether to keep some of their last belongings or be able to feed their children.

"People only have five minutes to grab what they can and then run away," he said. "We find these people being specifically trapped with no opportunities."

Despite that, he said, many Syrians at the camps express hope that the fighting, which has dragged on for nearly nine years, will eventually come to an end.

"Their coping mechanisms are beautiful from a human standpoint," Reynders said.

But, he added, while groups like MSF are doing what they can to provide support on the ground, ultimately, "there needs to be a solution" from the international community.

"It's not too late. Even after more than eight years, it's not too late," he said.

Syrians 'Trapped' in Overcrowded Tent Camps Forced to Trade Final Possessions so Children Can Eat | World