’No place to go’: Refugees risk freezing to death to flee Assad forces

Orient Net - Middle East Eye 2016-02-01 10:13:00

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Hundreds of people at the refugee camp at Yamadi, close to the border with Turkey, are loading their belongings onto trucks and heading deeper into opposition-held territory after regime forces regained control of a series of strategically placed towns. 

But among refugees already facing a constant threat of Russian air strikes there is nobody to sit and wait for the arrival of regime forces, some of whom are now less than 20km away following the capture earlier this month of the previously opposition -held towns of Salma and Rabia.

“We don’t want to live under the rule of the regime for a minute. They have no mercy on us. If they catch you, it’s the end for you,” Umm Asim told Middle East Eye as she prepared to flee with her family amid fears that one or two more nights of heavy fighting could bring regime army tanks rolling down the road.

 “We are trying to leave because the regime is getting closer and the Russians have done nothing good. We get shelled from one side and bombed on the other and we are afraid. My little son doesn’t eat and he doesn’t move because he is so afraid.”

 “I’m afraid for my children,” added Umm Marwan. “We are leaving because of the planes and because the children are so afraid. The army is getting closer and the planes are constantly shelling us. We want to leave and find a new place to stay.”

Russia is accused of killing hundreds of civilians since intervening in Syria last September on the side of Assad by launching air strikes in opposition-held territory.

In November, Russian jets bombed camps including Yamadi in the Turkmen Mountain region of northern Latakia that had become refuges for Syrians fleeing from war-shattered cities, including long-besieged Homs, Aleppo, and Ariha in Idlib province.

 “The Russians came to kill the Syrian people. It’s a massacre, they use planes, tanks and missiles,” said Umm Asim. “Where do we go? If we go to the villages they bomb us… where can we go?”

Until last year the nearby Turkish border had been accessible to refugees, with thousands of members of the local Turkmen community crossing eastwards to camps in Turkey’s neighboring Hatay province.

Just weeks ago, the camp at Yamadi was a desperate but bustling and sprawling place that had become a temporary home to thousands of people.

Now many of the tents stand empty and abandoned, with trucks laden with bedding and firewood, a highly valued commodity, setting off regularly inland in the direction of rebel-held territory in neighboring Idlib province.

Some hope to reach other refugee camps, rather than returning to homes already destroyed. But with nearby camps already overflowing, most expect to set up tents in the countryside, where freezing night-time temperatures pose a further threat to life.

Others, with children who are too sick or who lack the resources to pack up and leave, have no choice but to stay put and take their chances. Few of the children left have adequate clothing for the harsh mountain conditions, with some wearing just slippers on their bare feet.

Bilal Abdul Kareem and Simon Hooper- Middle East Eye.