Syrian Humanitarian Disaster Looms as Internal Refugees Face Bread Shortages
For the first two months after fleeing Aleppo, Yaser Mohammad slept outside in an olive grove. When it rained, he crawled under a lorry.
Home is now a leaking plastic tent on the Syrian side of the Turkish border. “We don’t have bread. Fuel is very expensive. There is no electricity, no water,” Mohammad said.
Another 6,500 Syrians are living in similarly dismal conditions, most having fled the war just down the road in Aleppo. Freezing temperatures and relentless rain over the past week have turned the Bab al-Salam refugee camp into a muddy swimming pool. “See for yourself: our tent contains centimetres of water. We can’t sleep at night. We’re exhausted. Everybody is exhausted. Our kids have lice.”
Mohammad, his wife and six children are a tiny part of a much larger catastrophe now enveloping Syria. After 21 months of war, at least two million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes. Hundreds of thousands have fled abroad, where they live in dire conditions. But most are displaced inside Syria - camping in tents, sharing overcrowded rooms with relatives, renting private flats, or squatting in shivering school buildings.
This largely invisible exodus has pushed Syria’s already strained infrastructure close to collapse. The cardinal problem is bread - Syria’s most important food staple. There is not enough to go round; bread is disappearing. In the 21st century, and under the nose of the international community, a nation is sliding into starvation and medieval hunger.
In the northern town of Azaz, queues form outside bakeries in the dull sepia hours of early morning; by mid-afternoon hundreds of men, teenaged boys and women are still waiting in the cold outside. Over the past month the situation has got dramatically worse. “I’ve been waiting here since 4am. I’m still waiting,” said Ahmed Yusuf, a nurse with the relief charity Doctors Without Borders. “I’ve skipped work to find bread. My son queued up yesterday. He spent so long outside he’s now sick.”