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Aleppo refugees 'living in chicken coops' Open in fullscreen

Absi Smeisem

Aleppo refugees 'living in chicken coops'

Russian airstrikes have forced thousands of civilians out of Aleppo [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 February, 2016

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Living conditions for refugees escaping Aleppo following an ongoing Russian-backed regime offensive has been described as "disastrous"
Hundreds of Syrian civilians are still heading towards the Bab al-Salam crossing on the borders of Aleppo, in fear of Russian airstrikes.

Tousands of Syrian refugees are awaiting permission to cross into Turkey while hundreds of others are being transported to the northern Syrian town of Afrin on a daily basis. 

Mahmoud Ali is an elderly man who had escaped with his family of nine. With him are four of his orphaned grandchildren who lost their mother in an airstrike while their father remains on the frontlines of Aleppo. 

The family arrived safely to the border only to be met with closed gates and denial of entry. 

"We have no one but God," he says, as he looks up ti the sky. 

He continues: "I am seen to be among the lucky ones for having a truck...but as you can see we too live out in the open."

"We had never imagined to be in such a difficult situation. Even though we had adjusted to life during war at least we were in our own homes. Now we are out here in bad weather and we do not even know how to manage our day to day affairs," he added. 

At that moment, his wife interjects. "We live in the open and are made to walk five minutes to visit the toilet facilities- this has a huge psychological effect on a female."

Large tents used in poultry farms are being used to hold 30 to 40 refugees each

A dire limbo

Ten days have passed since since the crisis in Aleppo caused the displacement of civilians from their homes to camps like the one we visited. 

In recent weeks, the governor of the Turkish city of Kilis visited the border and confirmed the arrival of 100,000 Syrian refugees. This comes after the Kurdish People's Protection Unit allowed thousands of refugees to pass in what is being described by some as a self-serving move to empty the region of Arabs and Turkmen to adjust the regional demographic in their favour. 

Activist Mujahed Abu al-Joud told The New Arab that there are 50,000 new refugees that have fled towards the Bab al-Salam crossing in recent days, with 16,000 of these being registered at the Tariq bin Zyad checkpoint there.

Al-Joud continued: "Transportation operations are ongoing on a daily basis however there are two areas: there's a wave coming from the outskirts of Aleppo towards the Bab al-Salam crossing and another opposing wave going in the other direction."

Al-Joud went on to suggest many families had lost hope in the opening of the border and can no longer bear the conditions under which they currently live at the crossing.

For this reason, he says many families are taking buses provided by the Azaz provincial council to go towards Darat Eza on the outskirts of western Aleppo.

Al-Joud described the humanitarian issues facing the refugees as a disastrous and said hundreds of families have been left without tents, security, health facilities and medical supplies. He added those who do eventually find tents are forced to lay them on the floor due to the lack of mattresses or blankets to sleep on.

Despite the presence of numerous humanitarian organisations such as Medical Relief, Syria Relief and the Turkish IHH, they say they do not have the capacity to maintain and secure the huge numbers of displaced refugees present. 

However, in what is seen as a world-first, large tents used in poultry farms are being used to hold 30 to 40 refugees each. The tents which have been laid with gravel, are segregated by gender while others have been dedicated to housing children.

An elderly female refugee who lives in the group tents told The New Arab of her experiences. "I'm used to praying dawn prayers every day but I can’t do that here in the tents. The water is unbearably cold and my family and I have not washed for more than 20 days."

Due to the Russian airstrikes, north Aleppo has seen the biggest wave of mass displacement since the start of the Syrian revolution. Airstrikes are concentrated within this region to pave the way for regime forces to progress towards the city and surrounding countryside.

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