The regime’s continuous bombing of opposition-controlled villages in the northern Hama countryside has pushed most residents to leave their homes and flee for safer areas. The once populous towns of Kafrzaita, al-Latamna, Kafnabuda and Morek are now nearly empty of inhabitants, after they happened to fall on the front lines and large parts of their infrastructure were destroyed.
The displacement crisis in the northern Hama countryside is ongoing, seeing as the regime’s bombing of targets in the area is ongoing, in a policy some residents described as “systematic deportation” of the region’s original inhabitants.
Large-scale displacement of local residents began in the middle of 2012. Since then, people fleeing violence have tended to head towards northern Syria and neighboring countries, most notably Turkey.
Successive waves of displacement accompanied succesive waves of violence that rocked the northern Hama countryside. The result? Displaced residents established a number of informal camps in the neighboring southern Idlib countryside, in the hopes of returning to their homes in the short term.
There are more than seven informal gatherings for the internally displaced from Hama in the southern Idlib countryside. The most important are Tajammua Um al-Sir, Tajammua Tarmala, Tajammua Abdin, Tajammua Maarat al-Sin, and Tajammua al-Naqir.
The largest of these is Tajammua Um al-Sir, which includes more than 1,350 people, whereas more than 4,000 live in these camps combined, according to a census conducted by the opposition Hama Provincial Council. These camps are spread out at a distance from one another, because of repeated Russian and Syrian air raids on the region.
Camps with no services
These informal camps suffer from weak municipal services and a lack of the most basic necessities of life. Most families live in tents worn out by the harsh weather in both the winter and summer.
“We build a tent that’s [now] almost in tatters because of the number of times we’ve taken it down and put it back up, and because of the harsh weather,” Muhammed a-Turk, a resident of Tarmala camp, told The Syrian Voice.
“We suffer from weak municipal services, a lack of drinking water that is especially hard to get in the winter. Perhaps what scares us most is the Russian bombings, and for that reason we’ve spread the tents out far from one another in a relatively random fashion,” he added.
Camp residents have repeatedly called on civil society organizations for relief, says an official at one of the camps.
“We’ve directed a number of calls for aid, in order to secure basic services like water, aid baskets and medical services, but we’ve only managed to secure less than 50 percent of the camp’s most basic needs,” Abu Yaser, head of one of the camps who preferred anonymity, told The Syrian Voice.
“Camp residents still need new tents, especially in the summer, considering some of the tents were torn up and have become practically unsuitable for use.”
“As for education—it’s a mess,” Abu Yaser added. “Not a single teacher is present in the camp, meaning that residents need to travel to neighboring villages to get an education.”
Challenges and solutions
Some humanitarian organizations and charities are trying to implement programs and provide services to camp residents. Groups distribute aid baskets on a monthly basis, which help families acclimate to the difficulty of nomadic tent life.
As for medical support, the opposition Hama Health Directorate provides support by way of free mobile clinics.
“We visit the camps of displaced Hama residents in the southern Idlib countryside on a daily basis, and our doctors provide medical services and medicine for free,” Maan al-Qasem, head of one of the mobile clinics, told The Syrian Voice.
Whereas the camps’ informal, spread-out structure helps reduce the danger of aerial assault, it also hampers the provision of services. Humanitarian organizations have trouble reaching the camps, and their distance from one another has caused issues with distributing monthly aid packages consisting of water and food, and with obtaining municipal services.
Another problem that faces the internally displaced is securing a spot on which to erect their tents. Most of the camps are built on private property, which makes them subject to requests for evacuation from time to time.
The camps in the southern Idlib countryside have repeatedly been targeted by warplanes and mortars, causing several massacres.
The most notable was the targeting of the Abdin camp with barrel bombs on November 11, 2014, which killed more than 20 and wounded dozens more. In another instance, Russian warplanes targeted the al-Naqir and al-Sheikh Mustafa camps on December 30, 2015, with cluster bombs that are prohibited internationally, causing a massacre that claimed the lives of women and children.
With battles continuing and aerial bombardment more frequent than ever, hopes are slim that residents of the northern Hama countryside will be able to return to their homes anytime soon. Diplomatic measures on the international stage have led to no concrete developments, and the internally displaced cannot predict what the future holds for them. For now, humanitarian organizations’ provision of municipal services and aid to residents remains insufficient.