In Idlib, dis­placed Syr­i­ans be­moan ‘open-air prison’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

IDLIB: Tens of thou­sands of dis­placed Syr­i­ans say they have be­come trapped in an “open-air prison” in the north­west­ern prov­ince of Idlib which they fear will be the army’s next tar­get. Rebels and civil­ians who have sought refuge in the op­po­si­tion-held prov­ince, most re­cently from sec­ond city Aleppo, say they are suf­fer­ing from sky­rock­et­ing prices and over­pop­u­la­tion.

At least 25,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing rebel fight­ers, have left east Aleppo since Thurs­day un­der an evac­u­a­tion deal that will see the city come un­der full gov­ern­ment con­trol. Many of them have headed to neigh­bor­ing Idlib prov­ince to stay with rel­a­tives or in dis­place­ment cen­ters. “We did not want to leave our land, but they used ev­ery weapon avail­able to force us out,” says Abu Mo­ham­mad, a fa­ther of four from east Aleppo. “Now they’ve pre­pared a prison for us in or­der to be­siege us and bom­bard us,” he adds, speak­ing to AFP in a camp host­ing around 100 dis­placed fam­i­lies.

Idlib city has been held since March 2015 by a coali­tion of rebels led by the Is­lamist group Ahrar al-Sham and the for­mer Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate Fateh al-Sham Front. Since then, tens of thou­sands of peo­ple from across the coun­try have flooded the prov­ince. The UN of­fice for hu­man­i­tar­ian af­fairs, OCHA, es­ti­mates that 700,000 in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple have found shel­ter in Idlib since Syria’s war erupted nearly six years ago.

‘Tough’ life in Idlib

Many of those dis­placed to Idlib are flee­ing gov­ern­ment bom­bard­ment or evac­u­at­ing be­sieged ar­eas un­der lo­cal deals with the regime. These “rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” agree­ments typ­i­cally see rebels and civil­ians bussed out of a town in ex­change for an end to shelling or siege by gov­ern­ment troops.

In ad­di­tion to Aleppo, six other towns near Da­m­as­cus have been evac­u­ated in the last sev­eral months, in­clud­ing Daraa and Moad­amiyet al-Sham. The in­flux to Idlib has had an over­whelm­ing ef­fect on ev­ery­day life, with the cost of rents and ba­sic food sky­rock­et­ing and short­ages be­com­ing a com­mon real­ity.

Abu Yazan al-Ramah, a fighter who ar­rived in April from the be­sieged rebel town of Zabadani near the Le­banese border, says liv­ing in Idlib was “tough”. “It’s ex­pen­sive. There are some things you can’t find or at times they are un­af­ford­able,” says the 30-year-old who has joined up with a lo­cal rebel group in or­der to sur­vive.

Con­tin­u­ing to work with rebel groups is of­ten the only way that dis­placed men can se­cure shel­ter or food. Ac­cord­ing to Abu Zeid, a rebel who was wounded near Da­m­as­cus, armed groups of­ten pro­vide newly dis­placed fight­ers in Idlib with free hous­ing, clothes, food “and some­times money”.

Even lo­cal busi­ness own­ers in Idlib are strug­gling to re­spond to the soar­ing needs. “The pop­u­la­tion in­creased and so has de­mand,” says gro­cery shop owner Jalal al-Ah­mad. Ah­mad says he buys his mer­chan­dise mainly from neigh­bour­ing Turkey but ad­mits that when he is stuck, he gets sup­plies from regime-held ar­eas.

“It is much more ex­pen­sive to buy from regime-held ar­eas,” says Ah­mad, la­ment­ing the ris­ing cost of ba­sic prod­ucts such as rice, sugar, tea, cook­ing oil and eggs.

IDLIB: A gen­eral view shows the main street and the al-Hamda mosque on Novem­ber 26, 2016.

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