When home becomes a suitcase for millions of Syrians

Najlaa's children. Like many Syrians, the family has been displaced several times.

Najlaa , 27, tells her story while sweeping the concrete floor of her two-room home in Kilis, Southern Turkey.

She says:

We lived in Aleppo, then fled to Turkey when the conflict in Syria started and my husband got wounded. When my mother fell ill in Syria, we all went back to Aleppo to be with her. But then the city became besieged by the Syrian army, and life was very difficult. We left Aleppo again on the green buses to Idlib, before coming to Kilis.

Her head spins with the recollection of all the places she has had to move to and from with her 30-year-old husband Saleem, and their five children. 

A common tale

Their experience mirrors that of millions of Syrians who have been displaced by more than seven years of conflict.

But Najlaa’s story is also that of tens of thousands of Syrians who have been transported on the now famous ‘green buses’ from places like besieged Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and Northern Rural Homs to the northern governorate of Idlib. 

Often after weeks of intense shelling and airstrikes on those populated areas, a ‘deal’ between the government of Syria and armed groups would be announced and people – both civilians and combatants – would board the buses headed up North without much choice.

They either relocate to this opposition-held area, or stay put and face continued deprivation, and possibly arrest and detention.

Idlib has become the de facto home of more than 2 million people, most of them displaced from other parts of Syria.

Civilians who arrive in the Northern governorate, often after long periods of besiegement with little food, clean water and healthcare, face challenges such as lack of accommodation and jobs, but most importantly continued fighting and insecurity. 

Local humanitarian organisations present in the region are overwhelmed by the ever growing needs.

CARE is supporting eight such organisations to respond to people’s need through food and cash distribution, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene projects.

A different life

For Najlaa and her family, the only choice was to move even further North and cross into Turkey a few months ago.

Saleem found a job as a tailor while Najlaa takes care of their children, aged 12 to 2. The rent for their small home is 100 Turkish Lira (23 USD) per month. The rest of her husband’s pay goes into food and other daily expenses.

Najlaa said:

Life is safe here, but expensive. I wish I could work. But I can’t leave my children alone.

She stays at home with her two daughters and three sons, none of whom goes to school.

The children have lost years of education. When they lived in besieged Aleppo, they didn’t go to school because of the daily fighting. Once they reached Turkey, it was too late to enrol them. 

Najlaa said:

I really want my children to get the education I wasn’t lucky enough to continue.

In Syria, the infrastructure has been badly damaged by the war, classrooms have been destroyed or used as shelters, and half of the population has been displaced from their homes. One out of three children is out of school today.

Families like Najlaa’s, which have been repeatedly displaced, often end up with barely the clothes on their back, and not many assets or resources.

When they moved into their new home in Kilis, the children were afraid to go into the kitchen that had a leaking roof, cockroaches and no sink. 

How CARE is providing support

CARE has helped Najlaa and her family by fixing the roof, putting a sink and taps in the kitchen, rehabilitating the toilet and changing the doors and windows. 

By August 2018, CARE's team in Turkey will have rehabilitated 400 homes in Kilis, a small town of 93,000 people that hosts 130,000 Syrian refugees.  

But what Najlaa dreams of is her house in Aleppo, which had a small garden. This house has been destroyed, her husband has lost his job, her mother has passed away, and she sees no hope of returning home soon, unless it’s to live again in displacement.

The Syria conflict has now lasted seven years. More than 400,000 people have been killed. One quarter of the population has fled the country. Millions are in need of aid inside Syria.

It’s time this stops.​

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.