The hardest hit areas by the earthquake in Syria are the northern Aleppo province and Idlib. We visited both this month. Jinderes, in southern Afrin, was really the most devastated: 40% of the buildings are destroyed or damaged, the head of the local council, Mahmoud Hafar told us last week. 4,000 families who lost everything are still on the streets, and 1,000 people died in the town, that had 51,000 residents before the earthquake hit. The population is a mix of original inhabitants, Kurds and new IDPs, who have arrived over the years from different parts of Syria, mainly due to the bombing of the Assad regime and its allies: Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. Displacement is going on from regime areas to the North, not vice versa.
From Damascus, through SDF-held areas (Deir Ezzor and Raqqa) to SNA-held Ras al-Ayn.
When the earth trembled in the early morning of 6 February, we happened to be in northern Syria, in Mabrouka. This is a small countryside village (or collection of villages) in Hasaka province under SNA control. We were there to investigate displacement. Because the situation in regime areas has deteriorated severely, people from regime areas are arriving in SNA areas, many to continue to Europe. We met several families from Damascus, one child with only plastic around his feet because he had lost his shoes on the road. It was freezing cold. They can only reach this area with the help of smugglers, first, they travel from Damascus to the regime-held city of Deir Ezzor, and then smugglers guide them to the SDF area of Deir Ezzor, and from there other smugglers take over to take them to Mabrouka. The police in Mabrouka did not allow us to film interviews with people they had stopped there. But after insisting, we were allowed to talk to several among them. That night alone, an official in Mabrouka told us they had stopped 280 persons, and 1000 in the last 3 days alone. “We think this is about 50% of people that are trying to go to Turkey and Europe from here”, he told us. This family from Damascus had sold everything in Damascus and are on the way to Europe. In Ras al-Ayn we were allowed to interview a young man, who had just arrived three days ago. Like many others, he had fled forced regime conscription, so we blurred his face and his voice because he may still have relatives in the regime area. The interview took place on Friday 3 February in Ras al-Ayn.
Anyone else would like to speak? Hello. “Hi there.” Where are you from? “I am from the countryside of Damascus.”
From the countryside of Damascus. And when did you arrive here? “I arrived here like 3 days ago.” 3 days ago. “Yes.” And why did you…“We have forced conscription, that is in the first place. In the second place, there is no work there. You have no place to work there. There are no schools. I studied halfway through 9th grade and could not finish. Where should I stay? There is no place to live.”
We see on TV that the situation in Damascus is hard. In the areas of the regime. “Correct. Correct. Yes, exactly, it is very hard. You cannot go fighting with the regime. I would be killing my cousins and my relatives and friends. One cannot.”
And how many days was the journey from the countryside of Damascus to here? “Like a week.”
And how much did you pay? “About $150-$200.” $150. And do you also have a place where you can stay? “Yes, there is a place. There is someone I know.” How old are you? ”I was born in 2007. (15 years old)”. Thanks a lot. “Thank you.”
After the earthquake: More displacement from eastern Aleppo areas to SNA areas.
During interviews in Qabasin and Biza’a, east of al-Bab, the heads of both local councils told us that people from eastern Aleppo are arriving in their towns. In both cases this concerns about 200 people. People are telling them that the regime is not providing aid, and steals most of it; that is why they decided to leave for SNA areas. Syrians can only go from regime or SDF areas to SNA areas in the north by paying smugglers. We talked to Radwan al-Sheikh, head of the local council in Biza’a, a town of about 70,000 residents, located about 40 km from Aleppo, southeast of al-Bab, and very close to the frontline with the regime in Tadef.
“The area of Biza’a which consists of the town of Biza’a as well as 17 villages and 15 farms were among the areas that were affected like other areas near the Syrian-Turkish border. The damage consisted of a number of buildings, private buildings, and public infrastructure like mosques and schools. Some health centers were affected by the series of earthquakes to which the area was exposed. Some walls came down and some ceilings and cracks remain extremely unsafe. The council issued a warning, a city-wide warning to assess whether they need to evacuate, or if the building is still structurally sound”, says al-Sheikh. “Of course as soon as we heard the news and felt the earthquake the council of all the residents in the town and the countryside to report and register or document any and all damage caused by this earthquake whether to the house or the directories or the public buildings. Until today about 800 houses are affected or partially damaged, in addition to 5 residences where it is recommended to tear down and rebuild. “
“Within Biza’a there is a camp where 700 families live in the village of al-Braziye, in the village of al-Braziye, we had about 100 vacant houses before the earthquake. We absorbed and received people who were affected by the earthquake from other areas in the Zabil camp, also a number of houses in the town of Biza’a which were suitable for the living of course.” And the new people that came to this area to the camp for instance, where are they from? From Jinderes? “From Jinderes, from areas close to Idlib, from areas near our areas in general.”
And I understood from you that some also came from regime areas. “There are, in the last period after the earthquake, some families and persons who managed to arrive here to our areas.” And why did they come here despite there being more support going to regime areas? “It’s safer. We could say it is much safer. And more just, God willing, in distribution than in regime areas.”
Some people say for example that they didn’t receive aid at all in Aleppo for example? “We are hearing that, we are hearing that on social media that the distribution of any aid is terrible in the areas of the regime.”And you, in Biza’a did you receive any aid? Whether from the UN or from the EU to here? Not routine aid but maybe aid because of the earthquake? “Unfortunately, despite our people undergoing huge calamities, we did not receive any UN aid. This was in big part due to the institutions that distribute aid too haphazardly.”
We went to another town east of al-Bab as well, Qabasin, which is near the SDF frontline (7km) and the regime frontline as well (10 km). The head of the local council there, Abdel Qader al-Shibli also told us that, in addition to people from Jinderes and Idlib, people from Aleppo are arriving in his town. Qabasin has about 70,000 inhabitants as well. Both Qabasin and Biza’a are towns east of Al-Bab which has about 200,000 residents.
“About 250 houses were damaged here. There is the displacement from the Jinderes area towards the camps. The number of people from the disaster town of Jinderes has reached about 180 families. There is also displacement from regime areas, from the eastern Aleppo areas. The displacement from eastern Aleppo areas is because of the lack of support that is present there. The aid is not really arriving and the regime is selling it on the markets. Eastern Aleppo is a disaster area since 2012 because of the many bombings from the regime areas with Scud rockets, with barrel bombs that the regime fired. The regime now plays the role of destroying the houses that the regime itself destroyed. As they are destroyed because of the earthquake, but the destruction happened earlier in 2012 as a result of the bombing that happened and the damage and the killing that occurred by the regime against the Free Syrian people. “
So the displacement currently is, in the last days, from Jinderes, is also from Idlib? “Yes also from Idlib families arrived.”And also from..”From SDF areas families displaced because of forced conscription.” Also from SDF areas? “From SDF areas, yes.” By the way, how much is the percentage of IDPs in Qabasin? “The percentage of our displaced brothers is 55%.”The majority? “Yes, 55%, consisting from all parts of provinces of Syria. From Deir Ezzor, from Aleppo, from Hama, from Homs, from Damascus, all present with us. Qabasin now has about 13 or 14 camps. The majority of IDPs there come from the areas mentioned.”
Did you receive any aid for the IDPs in the camps? Beforehand, and also after the earthquake? “The support is very weak. The support that arrived was very poor. The UN organizations aren’t present at all. Only the emergency ambulance arrived and distributed 24 kits. The Molham Team of volunteers distributed matrasses and food. That is the only support that is present here. The support was from the inhabitants and the council. They organized it and distributed it among the people affected by the earthquake. “ By the time of writing 50 families from Aleppo had arrived in Qabasin, according to the local council.