“Last winter, we had to use scraps of plastic and shoes for heating because there were no safe heating materials available,” says Ahmed Al-Mohammed, who lives in a camp for displaced people in Dana, in northwest Syria’s Idlib province. “Life in the camp is hard and winters here are harsh.”
Some two million people live in camps in northwest Syria after being displaced from their homes by the country’s 12-year-long conflict. The camps are overcrowded, and their infrastructure is basic or even non-existent: many lack roads, electricity, running water, toilets, shower blocks and storm drains. Often, they are situated in remote, flood-prone areas, far from towns and essential services such as schools, markets, and health centres. Poor roads and insecurity as a result of the ongoing conflict combine to make camp residents even more isolated.
Living conditions in the camps have deteriorated further since the devastating earthquakes which struck the region in February 2023, while a recent escalation in violence, which began on 5 October, has seen a further 40,000 people in the region displaced from their homes.
Now winter is approaching. Temperatures in this region frequently drop as low as 5 degrees centigrade, often accompanied by strong winds and heavy rains, causing flooding, and destroying the fragile tents in which camp residents live. Meanwhile, a shortfall in aid funding has resulted in a limited provision of assistance.
MSF teams visiting 23 camps in the Dana, Atma and Maarat Misrin areas of Idlib province found that more than 4,400 households lacked the basic means of protecting themselves from the cold. Many people’s tents were only intended to be temporary shelters and are unable to withstand strong winds or heavy rains.