When Syrian government forces retook control of Rami al-Sayyed’s Damascus suburb in April, he and others who had supported opposition fighters faced a choice. “Either stay in regime areas and face the worst,” he said, “or leave and survive.”
And so, he recalled, “I arrived to Jandaris, a place I had never heard of before.”
Jandaris is the northern Syrian town near where Mr. Sayyed, an activist who uses a pseudonym for his own protection, lives in a makeshift refugee camp with thousands of others displaced by Syria’s seven-year civil war.
Mr. Sayyed — who documented in photographs and video the scenes in his neighborhood over the years as government barrel bombs fell, Islamist militias seized control and food supplies vanished — has taken camera in hand again. This time, he is providing a glimpse into the lives of some of the more than 6.6 million people displaced within Syria.
He was bused to Jandaris in April along with his brother, sister-in-law and their three young children after deciding to leave their suburb, Yarmouk, which itself had originally been established as a refugee camp for Palestinians fleeing the war over Israel’s founding.
Yarmouk had become a vibrant community as hundreds of thousands of Syrians came to live alongside the 160,000 Palestinians there, but then Syria’s civil war entangled the area in a brutal struggle between government forces and rebel groups.
After the government retook control, Mr. Sayyed was among the thousands who decided to leave for one of the country’s few remaining opposition-held areas, hundreds of miles away, rather than risk arrest by staying.
What they found in the displacement camp shocked them, even after the destruction of what they had left behind.
“We arrived at night, everything was dark,” Mr. Sayyed recalled. “The next morning was the biggest shock, when I woke up and saw how horrible the camp was, all dusty with white sand, as if I were living in the desert.”
It was the first time in eight years that he had left his neighborhood.
The Jandaris camp now shelters around 6,000 displaced people, including 3,500 Palestinians and almost 1,700 children, most of them from Yarmouk and another Damascus suburb, Hajjar al-Aswad.
Since both areas were once Islamic State strongholds, Mr. Sayyed is hesitant to show his ID at checkpoints surrounding the camp, fearing that he will be accused of supporting the extremist group. The area surrounding the camp is controlled by the Free Syrian Army — armed opposition groups now aligned with Turkey — and when he leaves the camp to buy supplies like food and clothing, the militia call him Daesh, an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
“I don’t know how safe I’ll be in the future.” Mr. Sayyed said.
When he first arrived in the camp, the tents were almost empty aside from some blankets. Mr. Sayyed’s family filled theirs with the few supplies they had been able to carry with them.
Their camp has no school. There is no electricity, and water is scarce. No doctors are at the site; a tent staffed by a handful of nurses and physiotherapists serves as a makeshift clinic.
For many, imagining a future here is impossible. Set up with support from the Turkish Red Crescent and Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, the site was intended to be an emergency response, not a long-term community.
People in the camp are also running out of cash.
“Three women visited me the other day. One of them told me she still has $ 6, but what can she buy with this?” Mr. Sayyed said.
He was shocked to see a well-known trader from Yarmouk in the camp.
“He was one of the wealthiest people,” Mr. Sayyed said. “Now he doesn’t have even the money to buy a pack of cigarettes. He felt too ashamed to borrow money.”
A fire recently spread through one of the tents, ignited by the flame from an open stove. The family living there lost all they had.
Mr. Sayyed sees the camp as a prison rather than a respite, though he knows there is nothing left for him back home either.
“You have no privacy, you can’t sleep well, you can’t leave your personal stuff and go to the toilet,” he said. “Sometimes I bathe inside the tent, fearing that someone might come and loot it.”
When he thinks of his home in Yarmouk, his mind wanders to a blue and yellow teddy bear he left behind.
“It was a gift from my ex,” he said. “When Daesh stormed Yarmouk, I left the house in a hurry, and when I returned, I couldn’t find the bear.”
“It reminded me of love,” he said, “but there is no more love today.”
The one bright spot for Mr. Sayyed in the camp is the children, including his 2-year-old nephew, Salah, and toddler twin nieces. Despite having little, they keep his spirits up.
“These kids have no toys, no playground to play in,” he said. “They are just mimicking the adults,” he added, noting that his nephew carries buckets to and from his tent that he pretends are filled with water.
But children also bear the hardship. The tents are crawling with bugs and scorpions, and the heat is often well above 100 degrees in the afternoon.
Mr. Sayyed also worries that his nephew and nieces will wander away from the safety of their tent.
Recently, he stopped and chatted with a young girl in the camp who was crying, and he recorded their exchange on camera.
“I want my house, a school,” the girl said, through tears. “I want toys. I don’t want to live in tents anymore. I want to be back home.”
Yet Mr. Sayyed knows that he and his family may never return to Yarmouk.
United Nations officials who visited Yarmouk on Tuesday said they doubted residents could return without there being significant rebuilding.
“The scale of the destruction in Yarmouk compares to very little else that I have seen in many years of humanitarian work in conflict zones,” said Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner general for the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. He said those who remained had expressed “deep anxieties about what the immediate and longer-term future holds.”
“The whole place became a mess,” Mr. Sayyed said. “I left all my memories behind and know I won’t be back.”
Read more here: NYT > Worldhappy wheels
Sep 14, 2018 0We are devastated to report that Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller has passed away from an apparent overdose on Friday (September 7), according to several sources, including TMZ. The site reports that Mac, real name Malcom James McCormick, was found in his San Fernando Valley home and was pronounced...
Sep 13, 2018 0
Sep 24, 2018 06 hours ago You might have heard about Life Itself by now, but probably not for any good reasons. The film, which follows multiple seemingly unconnected storylines about life, is being torn apart by critics. As it stands, the movie has a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the negativity is all the...
Sep 17, 2018 0Editor’s note: If you haven’t heard of Curology yet,...
Sep 11, 2018 0This is the body-positive brand we’ve been waiting...
Sep 08, 2018 0The eye cream’s popularity skyrocketed thanks to a...
Aug 31, 2018 0It’s not a one-shade-fits-all season (hooray!). These...
Sep 24, 2018 0BEIJING — The Chinese leader, wearing a dark Mao suit,...
Sep 24, 2018 0Senator Boozman wrote to Mr. Trump in March urging him to...
Sep 23, 2018 0Agreeing to a backup plan for solving the Irish border...
Sep 23, 2018 0But this summer, Ms. Lorenzin’s successor in the new...
Sep 23, 2018 0PUL-I-KUMRI, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents killed so...
Sep 22, 2018 0Gunmen killed at least 24 people and wounded 53 others on...
Sep 22, 2018 0ROKKASHO, Japan — More than 30 years ago, when its...
Sep 22, 2018 0DAMINIYA, Nigeria — Hundreds of horned cattle wandered...
Sep 22, 2018 0ROME — The remarkable letter last month calling on Pope...