The Faces of Syria’s Displaced

by McClatchy Foreign Staff. Photos by Andree Kaiser/MCT

At this makeshift camp for homeless Syrians just inside the border, an enterprising resident built a hand-powered Ferris wheel to give the children some fun.

This refuge is known as the “Hands of Cooperation” camp. Staffed by volunteers with no budget, the camp conditions are poor. The available tents collapse in strong winds. There’s no drainage when it rains, and there are only 12 simple toilets for 4,000 people.

Syria is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with at least 6.5 million people displaced internally — about half of them in 2013, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, and most from opposition-held areas. But it’s unclear who, if anyone in the international community, has oversight or responsibility for providing relief.

Both the government and some rebel groups have blocked access to humanitarian aid, making it difficult or impossible to get food, medicine and other basic necessities like water treatments, to an estimated 3.5 million people, according to U.N. estimates. Denying such access is “arbitrary and unjustified,” and a violation of international law, the U.N. has said.

The war has taken a stark toll on Syria’s children. More than 10,000 have been killed and millions displaced. A 2014 U.N. report found that the government forces and the opposition forces have targeted children with violence, holding them in detention and in some cases, executing them.

There’s a sense of abandonment in camps like these, which receive almost no financial support. Aid agencies can’t even say how many such camps have sprung up along the border, or how many people have sought refuge there.

There are no more tents to hand out in the Cooperation camp, so new families fleeing government assaults on their towns must squat in this nearby olive grove, or crowd in with other families, sometimes three to a tent.

These young boys, who fled an attack by government helicopters that dropped barrels packed with explosives, survey their new home.

At the Aisha orphans’ camp, about five miles from the Cooperation camp, conditions are better, with electricity and running water, thanks to donors from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The camp is inside Syria, but close enough to the Turkish border to protect it from regime warplanes.

At Aisha, children who have lost their fathers to war, and sometimes both parents, can live safely, attend school and even enjoy a playground.

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