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MSF scales up response in northwest Syria as nearly one million people forced to flee

Syrian doctor reveals situation on the ground in Deir Hassan camp, where an MSF-supported health centre is being "overwhelmed"

02 Mar 20

MSF is scaling up its response in northwest Syria as ongoing violence forces nearly one million people into overcrowded and unsanitary camps. 

Since 1 December 2019, more than 948,000 people have been displaced by bombing and shelling in Idlib province, according to the UN. Displacement of people on this scale, and in such a short time, is unprecedented since the Syrian conflict began nine years ago.

Most of the displaced people are concentrated in a small area along the Turkish border and are facing a critical situation. Many have been forced to flee the violence several times already and finding another place to stay can be a challenge.

"People are dependent on aid but there just isn't enough to go around."
Dr mustafa ajajsyrian doctor in msf-supported clinic, Deir Hassan camp

The camps for displaced people are overcrowded and water and sanitation facilities are inadequate for the large numbers of people, raising the risk of water-related diseases.

A displaced family in Deir Hassan camp, where living conditions are dire

There are too few tents to accommodate the new arrivals, forcing people to sleep in the open or in unfinished buildings and makeshift shelters.

People urgently need essentials, such as blankets, mattresses and winter clothes.

The situation on the ground

“There are no civilians at all in Takad now – there are only fighters. The regime has taken Basratoun, only 10 km west of Takad, and Takad is now on the frontline.

Two weeks ago, Dr Mustafa Ajaj told MSF about the situation in Takad, a city in rural western Aleppo province, which was sheltering large numbers of displaced families who had fled northwards to escape the offensive by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies.

Dr Ajaj managed the MSF-supported primary health centre in Takad until the frontline got dangerously close and he was forced to flee with his family.

He has now relocated the health centre to an empty building in Deir Hassan camp in Idlib province, where 120,000 displaced people are staying. MSF is also running a mobile clinic in the camp.

There are more than 120,000 displaced people in Deir Hassan, but not a single health centre. That’s why we chose this place,” says Dr Ajaj.

That first day we moved only the essentials that we could carry because there was heavy bombing going on and we couldn’t take everything... Over the past three or four days we’ve managed to move everything, with the support of MSF who paid all the transport costs.

Health centre “overwhelmed” 

The health centre has three medical staff – a doctor of internal medicine, a paediatrician and a gynaecologist – and has been inundated with patients since it opened.

In just four hours we received 60 to 65 children, and at 11 am we had to stop receiving patients because we couldn’t handle anymore. We are overwhelmed,” says Dr Ajaj. 

Dr Mustafa Ajaj has seen many children with bronchitis since opening a health centre in Deir Hassan camp

​“Amongst the children, we are seeing many cases of bronchitis because they’re living in a camp in winter... and cases of otitis [ear infections]. 

Amongst the adults, we are seeing colitis, gastritis and pharyngitis [inflammation of the colon, stomach and throat]. We’re also seeing upper respiratory tract infections amongst both children and adults.” 

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What MSF is doing to help 

Since December, we have distributed survival kits containing blankets, winter clothes and hygiene kits to 2,600 families, including in the Mareet Misirin area, which was hit by intense indiscriminate bombing and shelling on 25 February. 

In March, we plan to distribute at least 2,800 more survival kits, as well as 300 tonnes of compressed wood fuel blocks for safe heating to people living in 23 displacement camps. 

Our teams are also supplying 41,000 people with clean drinking water, building more than 100 latrines in camps in the Sarmadah region and expanding mobile clinics to cover new camps in this area. 

Deir Hassan camp now hosts 120,000 people fleeing violence in northwest Syria

On top of the hospitals we already support, we are donating emergency medical supplies to three additional trauma hospitals near the frontlines. We also hope to send in MSF staff to support their Syrian colleagues, most of whom are exhausted after years of working in extremely difficult conditions.

Our ability to increase our assistance will depend on a steady flow of medical supplies and essential relief items reaching northwest Syria.

MSF has no permanent presence in Turkey and is asking Turkish authorities to facilitate the transit of staff and essential supplies into northwest Syria. 

Life on the run

Dr Ajaj and his family are now living in nearby Al-Dana. This is the fifth time they've been forced to move due to the conflict. 

​“My children haven’t been to school for a month, ever since the fighting began,” he says.

​“New people are arriving in the area but they’re not coming to Deir Hassan camp because here it’s full. Instead, they’re setting up their tents 2 or 3 km away. People are dependent on aid but there just isn’t enough to go around.”

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