First Published: 2018-02-14

Syrians crammed in shared flats in Afrin
Hungry, thirsty, displaced Syrian families pile up in flats as they seek safety in Afrin despite dire conditions.
Middle East Online

Safety at the expense of comfort

AFRIN - Day and night, the members of seven displaced families file in and out of the single bathroom and kitchen they share in a cramped apartment in the Syrian town of Afrin.

Dozens of families have flooded the town to escape a three-week assault by Turkey and allied Syrian rebels on towns and villages along the border.

Among them is Amuna Hassan's family.

"We sleep sitting up. What kind of sleep is that? How are we supposed to fit? Can you imagine anything worse than that?" rants the elderly Hassan, a cigarette in hand.

"Maybe a bomb will go off and we'll all just die together."

Hassan, her children, and their families fled Jandairis, a border town southwest of Afrin, as Turkish bombardment of the area ramped up.

"We fled under fire. It was raining, people were crying and screaming. We fled from death," she says.

They settled in a small apartment with a half-dozen other families. Behind her, women and children in bright, patterned clothes sat on a row of cushions.

A baby wailed uncontrollably as an elderly man lay splayed out on a mattress, unfazed by the chaos.

"The bathroom doesn't work. We haven't bathed in 20 days, but we just want food to eat -- you think we're thinking about showers?" says Hassan, her hair covered in a grey scarf with violet polka dots.

"Hungry, thirsty, at least we were at home. Now look where we are -- all these people in just three rooms."

- 'It was tragic' -

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels launched their offensive on January 20 to fight the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a "terror" group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor says nearly 70 civilians have died in the assault, but Turkey says it is doing everything in its power to prevent civilian casualties.

Most of the bombardment has hit border towns and villages, forcing residents to flee inland to the town of Afrin and board up with relatives.

The United Nations estimates that between 15,000 and 30,000 have been displaced by the Turkish-led offensive to other parts of Afrin district.

Local authorities have sealed off access routes to other parts of Syria, the UN has said.

Abdel Haj Ahmad and his 12-member family left everything behind in their native village of Sheikh Mohamed, northwest of Afrin town.

"It was tragic. There were no cars on the road, so we walked with our bags until we found a car willing to drive us," the 49-year-old recalls.

Once in Afrin, they settled in a relative's modest apartment -- already overflowing with other displaced families.

"We're nine families. Nearly 40 people sharing one kitchen and one bathroom! Can you imagine?" says Ahmad.

"It's the first time we understand what displaced life is," he adds.

- Shoes, laundry piling up -

Overnight, the number of people in Naziliya Balo's household tripled.

"My uncle's family was displaced and they came to stay with us. Three families from Qarnah," a village north of Afrin, says the 28-year-old.

Her 10-member family is now hosting another 20 guests.

"We're helping each other out. They can't give us much," admits Balo.

"We're happy that they came to us, but it's so sad that they had to leave their houses and come here."

As the Turkish-led offensive heads into its fourth week, Balo says all of Afrin's residents should mobilise to help those displaced.

"There are a lot of tragedies and I get really sad about them. We'll open our house to everyone. Whoever's in need, we'll help them."

More than six million people have been displaced internally across Syria since its civil war erupted in 2011, many of them more than once.

Abdin Kashad, 30, fled the border village of Qura Baba with his five family members.

"There was artillery fire so we went to the town of Rajo, then they hit Rajo with air strikes so we came to Afrin," he explains in an exhausted monotone.

Kashad is happy to be safe in Afrin, but he and dozens of other displaced are packed tight into a single apartment.

Shoes of all sizes are piled up at the door and lines of washing criss-cross the courtyard.

"There's no bathroom here or anything, no place for the kids to play," Kashad tells AFP.

"We just want the bombing and air strikes to stop so we can go home."


Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Sudan leader backs Sisi election bid

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Iraqis flock to flea market for relics of bygone era

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home

Saudi crown prince says his country to seek nuclear bomb if Iran does

Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Tunisia’s Central Bank targets inflation but may hurt growth prospects

Libya’s health system reflects a larger humanitarian crisis

Israel blasts Gaza underground tunnel

Abu Dhabi awards France's Total stakes in oil concessions

Erdogan says Afrin city centre under ‘total’ control

Egypt tries to contain Sudan but challenges, suspicions remain

US defence secretary presses Oman on Iran weapons smuggling

Syrian regime retakes two towns from Ghouta rebels

Hamas shutters mobile firm after Gaza attack on PM

Israel punishes family members of West Bank attacker

Syria opposition says UN 'failed to prevent' Assad 'crimes'

UK tries to soothe Egyptian anger over mob attack death

Hundreds of thousands flee in dual Syria assaults

Turkish Cypriots vow to stand firm in gas dispute

Intensifying assaults in Syria spark dual evacuations

Tearful reunions, uncertain fates for Syrians fleeing Ghouta

Iran deal signatories meet as Trump deadline looms

Thirty years on, Kurds remember Halabja massacre

Air India says will fly over Saudi airspace to Tel Aviv

UN chief calls for end to Lebanese 'meddling' in Syria

Turkey seeks jail for journalists opposing government

UN says civilians trapped, used as 'human shields' in Afrin

Iran, Russia, Turkey hold Syria talks in Astana

Civilians killed in Turkish fire on Syria's Afrin

US Defense Secretary says Iran 'mucking around' in Iraq elections

No room for debate in Egyptian elections

Thousands flee Syria's Ghouta after month-long bombardment

Israel closes migrant detention centre in expulsion plan