ShelterBox and its partners are helping displaced families cope with the grim realities of life under canvas, in the cold and mud, with only basic amenities. These battle-weary people, formerly residents of a thriving city, now need every kind of aid imaginable – even lighting, children’s clothes, and sewing kits.
We all breathed a sigh when we saw families being bused out of Aleppo just before Christmas. For them, at least, the fear of daily thirst, starvation and bombings was over. But now aid workers are finding that displacement is bringing other severe hardships.
Farid, a Syrian staff member with ShelterBox partner ReliefAid, says, ‘I am deeply shocked by the living conditions of the camps where Aleppo families are now living. Even coming from East Aleppo where the destruction was huge and the humanitarian situation dire, the situation in the camps is worse. I have not seen anything like this before. No toilets, no water, mud everywhere.’
It takes a lot to shock aid workers in Syria, particularly former residents of Aleppo. Farid and his ReliefAid colleagues had seen their office bombed, and one of their team gunned down as he worked on a rooftop. But now, having quit their home city, razed to the ground by years of warfare, they have followed their neighbours into dozens of makeshift displacement camps dotted across the desert.
True, they are now out of the line of fire. But in every other way conditions could hardly be more harsh. Mike Seawright, Founder and Executive Director of ReliefAid, has worked in partnership with UK-based ShelterBox throughout the Syrian civil war, distributing its aid in some of the most dangerous territory on earth. Mike says, ‘People forced from their homes in Aleppo City are now having to live in freezing conditions surrounded by mud and water.’
‘They are joining families who have been living under the intense heat of summer and freezing winter conditions, including snow and ice, for five seasons. People have escaped one hell only to be caught in another.’
‘Families are now living in tents, having lost loved ones, with no idea how they will keep themselves warm at night. Without our collective support people will literally not survive.’
The ReliefAid team and ShelterBox are now gearing up to provide more aid to Syria’s displacement camps throughout March. They are concentrating on settlements in Idlib Governorate, particularly fifteen informal camps. The families here have been displaced from Aleppo over months, including in December’s exodus, and from areas in the south of the country.
Mike adds, ‘As you can see from our photos living conditions are very difficult. These smaller informal camps have been largely ignored as aid organisations look to provide assistance to sites that are easier to access and allow faster distribution. Families in these informal camps have significant needs which our next distribution is looking to address.’
ShelterBox is providing 5,000 blankets and mattresses to help combat the cold, 4,000 sets of children’s clothing, and 4,000 pairs of jeans and jumpers. 1,000 tarpaulins are included for waterproofing tents and buildings, and 4,000 20 litre water carriers. Then there are the less expected items – solar lamps for safety in the dark desert nights, hammers and fixings, duct tape and rope.
Without the financial means to purchase new clothing and tents, repairing them is an essential task in camp life. So the inclusion of 1,000 sewing kits means that families can make their precious materials last as long as possible.
ShelterBox’s Sam Hewett says, ‘Wherever you look in this region displaced families are living threadbare existences in uncomfortable conditions. These aid items bring some relief, particularly to the vulnerable, the young, the elderly. We will continue to source partnerships and aid routes that can find them, whether they have settled in large camps or small ad hoc encampments.’
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They have been on the most terrifying of journeys unaware that the world was watching. Now thousands of the children of Aleppo have reached relative safety, been given warm clothing, their families receiving aid from disaster relief charity ShelterBox and its partners
At one point these are the photos we thought we’d never see. Thousands of Aleppo families bussed out of the world’s most war-ravaged city to be greeted at displacement camps, and given clothing and other aid that has waited at a tantalising distance for months.
These images just received at ShelterBox’s Cornwall HQ show aid workers from in-country partner, London-based Hand in Hand for Syria, greeting the most vulnerable of the exodus from Aleppo. The aid shown is hats and scarves – essential as it has started to snow in the region – and other non-food items supplied by ShelterBox. It is part of an ongoing programme to help families displaced by the Syrian civil war.
ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Sam Hewett says, ‘The fighting in and around Aleppo that has been broadcast in recent weeks is indicative of the intolerable position that people throughout Syria are forced to endure.’
Due to the support of our generous donors, ShelterBox has been able to support people as they are evacuated from the city with items such as clothing and bedding, to shelter them from the cold winter conditions. This would not be possible without the presence of our partner organisations, whose staff share the same fatal risks as the people they are trying to help.’
Hand in Hand for Syria’s team are reported to have all escaped Aleppo over the weekend, and the last of New Zealand-based ReliefAid’s team of 40 Aleppo residents has just been reported safely evacuated.
The actual locations of this latest aid distribution are being withheld for security reasons.
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ShelterBox is fearful for 300,000 residents completely cut off from aid
Syrian Government and rebel forces are locked in conflict over the divided city of Aleppo, with essential aid lifeline the Castello Road now impassable. An estimated 300,000 civilians, 60% of them women and children, are caught in the crossfire with dwindling supplies of food and water.
In a volatile and fast-changing situation, Syrian rebel fighters are continuing their assault on government-held districts of Aleppo after troops cut their only route into the divided northern city.
Aleppo is now effectively partitioned, with much of the west of the city held by Syrian Government forces, while rebel troops occupy the east. Attempts by rebels to re-open the arterial Castello Road, the only route to the east and the last remaining aid lifeline, have failed.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, says, ‘An estimated 300,000 people residing in eastern Aleppo city depend on the (Castello) road, which allowed the flow of humanitarian supplies, commercial goods, and civilian movement. We continue to receive distressing reports of aerial bombardment and shelling on civilian locations in both western and eastern Aleppo city.’ He has called for the ‘rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave.’ But all exits are now blocked.
Aleppo is Syria’s largest city, its financial and industrial hub. Of enormous historical significance, it is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. Now vast areas lie in ruins, and without utilities and infrastructure much of it is uninhabitable.
Attacks against areas of eastern Aleppo have continued unabated, with civilians indiscriminately killed and injured, and there are warnings of humanitarian workers being targeted. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that, ‘hundreds of mortars and projectiles were launched on western Aleppo. From 8 to 11 July, 57 people were reportedly killed including 15 children and 497 were injured.’
The BBC’s Middle East Analyst Diana Darke describes this as ‘Syria’s end game’ adding that ‘Aleppo is no stranger to sieges – there have been at least eight recorded across its turbulent history. But this one promises to last longer than all the others put together.’ In recent days it has been reported that military targeting of water supply networks is now a daily occurrence. When the water pumping station at Al-Khafsah in Aleppo failed, cutting off water supply to half of the city, there was panic and chaos, with people resorting to drinking from puddles in the streets.
Charity Save the Children says that hospitals and schools are also being attacked, with at least nine medical facilities bombed in the past week in Aleppo and Idlib. It warns that the whole of Northwest Syria is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.
ShelterBox has been providing aid to Aleppo for many months via distributing partner charities – London based Hand in Hand for Syria and New Zealand based ReliefAid. Consignments of 4,000 Shelter Kits, containing a variety of essential items such as jerry cans, mats, solar lamps, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, and water purification equipment, have been delivered by ReliefAid over the last 6 months, 1,500 of them just before the Castello Road closed.
ShelterBox partners ReliefAid say that there are already fuel shortages in eastern Aleppo, critical because so many people and businesses rely on generators for power.
ReliefAid Executive Director Mike Seawright also noted, ‘In addition the price of food and other basic commodities essential for daily living have sky-rocketed overnight. Families already suffering acute food shortages are left wondering how they will put food on the table.’
ShelterBox Operations Team Lead Alice Jefferson says, ‘We are glad to have been able to place aid very recently into eastern Aleppo via our partners ReliefAid, part of an inward flow over many months. But now with all aid routes cut off it is hard to see what the next step can be.’
‘Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in areas that are being bombarded, and no-one can tell how long essential supplies of food and water will last. ShelterBox and its in-country partners are ready to deploy again as soon as humanitarian access is granted.’
Five years of war in Syria have claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people. Millions have fled the conflict, but nearly 18 million people still live in the war-torn country. The United Nations estimates more than 6 million of them are classed as ‘internally displaced’ after being forced to flee their homes to look for safer places to live. Most have fled the cities to seek shelter in the countryside.
ShelterBox has provided tents, shelter kits, clothing and educational equipment, both inside Aleppo, and in displacement camps within Syria and refugee camps in neighbouring countries including Iraq Kurdistan, Jordan and Lebanon. ShelterBox’s Operations team is monitoring the latest developments, and is in touch with colleague organisations on the ground in Syria.
You can help by donating to our Syria Refugee Appeal
Thousands of Syrian families are trapped at the Turkish border as they struggle to escape the front line of fighting. Many have young children to look after and nothing to protect them from the elements.
In the past few days, up to 70,000 people have fled Aleppo, Syria’s second city, as the regime pushes forward through northern Syria. With fighters on the ground supported by airstrikes, nowhere is safe and few buildings are still intact.
There is no clear route to safety, as the border crossing into Turkey at Bab al Salam is closed. Trapped between the encroaching army and a closed border, families have had no choice but to sleep outside in temperatures as low as -5°C.
We are determined to provide warmth and shelter for these families and a ShelterBox response team is currently based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep to identify how we can best we can support them.
ShelterBox operations coordinator Sam Hewett said: ‘These people have suffered enough, fleeing their homes due to warfare, and they deserve all our efforts to provide them with shelter, food, healthcare and safety.’
The team is working with long-term partners Hand in Hand for Syria to deliver the vital aid. Ahead of the arrival of sturdy, durable tents, the team is sourcing emergency kits to distribute to families. These kits contain blankets, mattresses and tarpaulins to protect people from exposure to the freezing conditions.
Around 4.6 million people have fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011, and another 13.5 million are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country. The majority of people have fled to the bordering countries of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In Lebanon, a quarter of its inhabitants are now Syrian refugees.
ShelterBox has been supporting families displaced by Syria, both in the country and elsewhere, since 2012. Working with a range of partners in Syria, we have distributed a variety of essential items from tents and shelter kits, to thick blankets and cold-weather clothing for children. In the past year, we have been supporting refugee camps in Iraq and providing temporary respite for families arriving in Greece before continuing their journey onwards into Europe.
A donation of $120 will buy an emergency kit containing blankets, mattresses and tarpaulins for a family. By donating now, you can prevent another night of freezing winter conditions to people exhausted by war.
At this time of year, our thoughts turn to family and home, but for many this just isn’t possible.
At ShelterBox, we don’t just help people whose homes have been damaged or lost in natural disasters, but those who have had to leave their homes due to conflict.
While many people leave their homes to escape the threat of terror and violence, such as those fleeing from Boko Haram in Nigeria or Islamic State in the Middle East, the way to safety is often just as perilous.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the number of people fleeing war and violence in 2015 is set break a record high, with almost a million people having crossed the Mediterranean Sea to escape conflict in Syria and elsewhere.
While we may not be able to help these families return to their homes and communities as we can after a flood or earthquake strikes, we can make sure that people who are migrating to safer parts of the world have some respite along the way.
This video shows our recent work in Greece, providing emergency shelter for people who had made the journey across the sea to the island of Lesbos. Many families only stayed in our tents for a few nights, but it meant that they were able to rest somewhere safe, warm and dry, before continuing their journey on to other parts of Europe.
Your support helps us to keep helping families in need, wherever they are in the world.
With no end in sight to the war in Syria, living in emergency camps and temporary shelters has become an everyday reality for many children.
Even though thousands of families flee Syria each year, there are many more that are unable to leave, families that have become displaced in their own country.
ShelterBox has been working with implementing partners in Syria for two and a half years, supporting people newly displaced by fighting with shelter.
As the war has raged on, people who were forced from their homes by fighting have found themselves living in camps for long periods of time. Inevitably, exposure to the extremes of Syria’s climate has taken its toll on these temporary shelters, meaning that children are growing up in tattered tents, exposed to the elements.
This is why ShelterBox has been working with several organisations, such as the Violet Organization, to replace old tents with ones that are durable and resilient to harsh winters and strong sun.
In this video, we meet some of the families that we have been providing with new tents to see what a difference it has made to them.
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As the months drift into years a refugee camp becomes more than just a refugee camp. It becomes its own township, its own community, its own trading centre. In a unique and moving insight, ShelterBox talks to four people making the best of life as long term refugees
International disaster relief charity, ShelterBox is in Iraq Kurdistan visiting refugees, some of whom may have first received its aid over three years ago. Time and climate have taken their toll on tents distributed all those many months ago, so ShelterBox’s team is there to assess refugee needs in the area, and to plan with partners to refresh or replace equipment.
The European refugee crisis has its roots in the Middle East and Africa. But those roots are deep, and now of very long standing. The camps are undoubtedly safer than where the refugees have fled from. And for many children, parents and elders they may now feel like home. But they are not.
In ramshackle shops and trading posts some make a meagre living. Others are working just to stay connected to their past. Some of the camps’ residents and workers opened up to our response teams with their personal stories. For security reasons we have changed their names, and we don’t identify the actual camps and their locations.
Nizar has been in the refugee camp for six months. He’d been cutting hair in his own barber shop in Syria for 17 years, and it was a successful business. He is barely able to support his family now that he lives in the camp, and he is eating into savings he put aside in Syria. People here are so poor he can’t rely on any income now. Nizar rents his shop, which he renovated with his own money to entice customers.
‘I work because I don’t want to just sit in my tent and do nothing. I certainly don’t do it for the money, because there is none to make! This is who I am, this is what I do. I don’t really have any customers because a good haircut isn’t a priority for people anymore, they’ve lost interest in their appearance.’ Nizar is considering taking his family to Europe, but is aware of the risks involved. His eventual goal is to return to Syria when it’s more peaceful.
Sayid is also from Syria. He’s lived in the camp for two years, and he fixes washing machines and air conditioning units. He sourced a lot of equipment from outside the camp, but there is little actual payment. It’s mainly barter, as few customers have cash, so he exchanges his skills for goods. In Syria he studied to become an electrical technician, but never had enough money to start his own business.
Sayid says, ‘People inside the camp have very basic human needs at this time. Although it’s hot here, aircon units and washing machines are not a priority for the poor.’ He can barely support his family, and would like to go back to Syria ‘because it’s home’. He also has land and property, and was farming his own land before the conflict drove him away.
Mother of six, Amena lived in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, now all but razed to the ground. She fled with her husband and family two years ago. Amena opened her shoe shop in the refugee camp four months ago by borrowing $3,000, so is paying for the stock by instalments. This money is also going towards preparing her family for the winter cold. There are icy months ahead, and the camp is on flat ground open to the unforgiving desert wind. She’s not making much money, but however poor her clients, everyone will always need footwear, won’t they?
Amena was forced to become the breadwinner when her husband fell ill. She registered with UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) one year ago hoping to claim asylum in the EU. But that has already been twelve months of waiting. She says, ‘I am proud and feel somewhat satisfied that we no longer need to receive aid, that I can support my family, even if by support I mean ‘survive’.’ Survival is all. She hopes their children will get a good education and start to live in a more dignified manner when, or if, they enter the EU.
Adnan ran a thriving tailoring business in Damascus, having started young and been a professional tailor for seventeen years. But he has now lived and worked in a refugee camp for two years. Adnan tries to support his family, but is struggling because his money trickles away on basic necessities. When asked what his future plans are he says, ‘I want to go home to Damascus….‘home sweet home’. People don’t become refugees because they have a choice. They don’t go to Europe because they want to, but because they have to.’
As the ShelterBox team talked to him he was working on tailoring a pink dress, and fixing a Peshmerga (Kurdish army) uniform. He says, ‘Some of the Syrians in the camp are trying to change their reality and make things more peaceable by volunteering with the Peshmerga.’
Jack Bailey is a ShelterBox response volunteer, and was one of ShelterBox’s team on the Greek island of Lesbos, where refugee families paused for respite and shade on the long trail towards central Europe. Now Jack is part of this latest deployment to Iraq Kurdistan.
He says, ‘Adnan, the tailor, with his sharp appearance, clean clothes and uncluttered shop was obviously skilled in his trade. How inspiring to see someone taking control of his livelihood and living as normally as possible in very abnormal conditions. To see him in a small shack on a dirt road in a dirty dusty refugee camp, and know that two years ago he was running a successful business in a cosmopolitan city and, by circumstances out of his control, he finds himself there barely able to support his family.’
‘He still greets us with a smile and is polite as he offers me his chair while I make notes. And as we leave he wants to know where we will publish the small article that will take a snap shot of his struggle, dignity and pride.’
Jack describes the feelings evoked by this long term refugee camp. ‘Arriving into this camp I was surprised to see how families had adapted their living space. It seemed that they had created a private space in the form of a court yard around their tents, possibly taken from their local architectural norms of high walled courtyards for privacy, or perhaps extra shelter from the sand storms that occur over the flat and barren desert landscape.’
‘The mixture of different coloured tarps and off-cuts that were used to create these court yards was striking. I was also struck by the freedom of movement of the children, their feeling of safety as they walk around the camp hand in hand or with arms around each other, in contrast to the fact that we are operating under strict safety and security protocols.’
‘Talking to them I’m reminded that each person deserves respect and dignity. As we were asking questions I’m listening, and impressed with people’s dignity in scratching out their own livings, and taking control of their own livelihoods, however unfruitful it might be.’
You can help refugees like Nizar, Sayid, Amena, Adnan and their families by donating here:
A new report exposes a worsening education crisis in Syria, where up to a fifth of all school buildings have been destroyed, militarised, or used as shelters. ShelterBox does what it can by sending SchoolBoxes to refugee camps and displaced communities.
The report, published by international charity Save the Children, makes hard reading. It says that Syria, a country which once had a 100% school enrolment rate, now has 2.8 million children out of school, the second worst attendance rate in the world.
After four years of conflict one in five school buildings has now been destroyed, claimed by the military, or pressed into service as shelter for displaced families. Up to half of children surveyed in Syria reported they were ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ able to concentrate in class.
Worse still, Save the Children reports that Syrian refugee children in neighbouring countries are facing disturbing rates of abuse, bullying, corporal punishment and marginalisation. One in 10 Syrian refugee children across the region is estimated to be working. In Jordan, 47% of refugee families reported relying partly or entirely on their children’s income.
Save the Children’s Regional Director, Roger Hearn says, ‘It is no surprise that, under these conditions, Syrian children are dropping out of school by the day, and the international community has to step up its response to ensure that we do not lose an entire generation of children.’
International disaster relief charity, ShelterBox has been delivering aid in Syria and its neighbouring countries throughout this long conflict, and its response teams have seem the traumatic effect on children time and time again. ShelterBox’s Director of Communications and Fundraising, Becky Maynard, says, ‘In these circumstances we aim to help the whole family, but our hearts go out particularly to the children. Following a natural disaster, at least there is some comfort and hope in knowing that the worst is over. With civil war there is no end in sight, so the psychological effects on young minds can have a worrying permanence.’
‘As a supplement to our emergency shelter and basic supplies, and in addition to the children’s activity packs inside each ShelterBox, we often deploy SchoolBoxes to areas where we know that schools have been destroyed, or to refugee camps where they need to be set up.’
Becky adds, ‘When I deployed to Iraq Kurdistan in 2013 I saw for myself the uplift that schooling, however makeshift, gives to children trapped in refugee camps, and the educational and social benefits that the normality of a school day can bring. In supplying this equipment we are taking some small steps to easing the tragedy of the ‘lost generation.’’
The distinctive red and blue SchoolBoxes contain essential supplies for teachers, including wind-up radios that also charge mobile phones, and school equipment for 50 children. They also include blackboard paint and a brush – these two items alone can transform any flat surface into a focus for learning. School packs, in bright yellow material bags, contain stationery, pens, calculators, drawing and maths equipment. They are often a source of pride for young people who have lost most of their personal possessions.
- The Save the Children report on Education is Syria is here
- More details on SchoolBoxes and other ShelterBox aid is here
- ShelterBox has distributed SchoolBoxes and School Packs in refugee camps in Syria itself and in neighbouring countries such as Iraqi Kurdistan. SchoolBoxes are funded through ShelterBox’s general aid, and cannot be sponsored individually.
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