In northern Syria’s opposition-controlled Latakia province, a local civil society group is trying to alleviate the burden on displaced Syrians by creating a thoughtfully designed, sustainable model for displacement camps.

Leading the initiative, Dr. Rami Habib, head of the Syrian People’s Hope Society, inaugurated the construction of the al-Wafa Camp for Humanitarian Work eight months ago.

“[The camp] strives to create as similar an environment as possible to the displaced person’s home,” Dr. Habib told the Syrian Voice. “This way, he’s able to adapt and to live.”

Though there are an estimated 1.3 million internally displaced persons in Syria, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s 2016 report, most displacement camps in the country are assembled in an ad-hoc fashion.

Due to their rapid construction, displacement camps in northern Syria lack adequate shelter, food security, and sewage systems, among other amenities, as documented by the Assistance Coordination Unit in a December 2015 bulletin.

Working to address these issues, Dr. Habib and the al-Wafa Society sought to construct a displacement camp that was the product of careful planning and a focus on sustainability.

‘Camp residents don’t just use the camp. They create it.”

Over the past two months, regime air raids on the mountains of Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal a-Turkman, documented by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, have led to large waves of displacement in opposition-controlled Latakia as local residents flee the bombardment of the Russian-supported air campaign.

This recent influx is in addition to the 700,000 displaced people estimated to be in the province by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in their November 2015 update.

To date, al-Wafa Camp, part of the Atma cluster of camps in northern Syria, has completed the construction of 100 of a planned 500 housing units to provide shelter and services to this displaced population.

Privacy is a main feature missing from displacement camps, according to Dr. Habib, who aimed to address this issue in the camp’s design.

For this reason, each housing unit contains a private bathroom as well as an individual supply of water and electricity.

A sewage system was installed alongside the construction of the housing units, according to what Dr. Habib told the Syrian Voice, in order to prevent buildup of refuse water near the camp and other public health issues.

“[Al-Wafa’s] planners understand the haphazard [construction] of the other camps,” Ahmed Sinou, a displaced person from the town of Selma in Latakia, told the Syrian Voice.  “So the camp paved the roads and created an extended drainage network.”

Accounting for food security, the camp’s coordinators have allocated space and drawn up plans for vegetable plots, a dairy farm, chicken coops, and a number of bread ovens.

“The camp has given us more than money,” Abdul Salam Shaker, a camp resident from Jabal a-Turkman, told the Syrian Voice.

“It provides us with free water and electricity and a chance to work in irrigation which keeps me from sinking into poverty. I’m no longer racked with fear that my family will go hungry,” the father of two added.

When displaced Syrians settle in al-Wafa Camp, they become integral members of its development and operation.

“Camp residents don’t just use the camp. They create it,” Dr. Habib explained.

During the latest phase of the project, al-Wafa was able to offer 60 job opportunities to residents.

“My job helped ground me,” Ziad Ahmed, a resident and security guard at the camp, told the Syrian Voice.

“Yesterday, I was in dire need of work. There weren’t any opportunities for me before [al-Wafa].”

Looking forward, camp coordinators are sketching the plans for a future school, mosque, and hospital near the camp.

In early 2016, they established a psychological support center within the camp to address the mental health needs of the community.

However, al-Wafa’s efforts to provide sustainability and stability to displaced Syrians in Latakia province have recently been stalled.

“We are unable to obtain funding from international foundations and organizations, meaning that funding is limited to private donations,” a camp organizer, requesting anonymity, told the Syrian Voice.

“There is difficulty in transferring funds and donations, not to mention the latest Turkish actions restricting visas, cutting off movement for many Syrians working in relief and aid,” he added.

Despite the pause in housing construction, Dr. Habib and his co-coordinators are still hard at work planning for the future in order to improve the livelihood of Syrians fleeing the conflict.

Their hope is that the model they have created for displacement camps can be adapted and reproduced by other humanitarian organizations in the region.

Above all, the goal is, as Dr. Habib put it, “to restore a bit of human dignity to displaced people who were robbed of that dignity when they were displaced.”

Translated by Tariq Adely