Syria Crisis: How Many Other Winters Away From Home?

The Syrian crisis is entering its fifth year, shattering many lives and homes as the days go by. And it does so with no mercy especially this winter when many displaced families suffered the biting cold and the warmth of their lost homes is only a distant memory. Abo Muhammed’s family shares their story on the second winter they spend away from home.

SAIDNAYA – For Abo Muhammed, old age would have ideally meant spending his days in the warm sun in front of his house in Qaboun in northern Damascus. Sadly, old age did not bring about the perks of retirement he hoped for. Well into his 70s, he was choking back his tears as he talked about how he ended up sitting in front of a silent Ferris wheel in a deserted theme park in Saidnaya further north.

“Our situation is really difficult,” he said waving his hands in defeat. Unable to talk much, the wheel’s vibrant yellow was a stark contrast to how he felt. The park is eerily quiet after joy and laughter left it four years ago.

Abo Muhammed fled clashes in Qaboun two years ago with his wife and youngest son Jihad, 25. He has another son and three daughters who are all married and live in Damascus with their families. 

The park’s owner let the family into the guard’s room in return for looking after the rides and plants. He even gave them most of the items they use as they came to mountainous Saidnaya with nothing but some clothes and the cash that was with them. They consider themselves a lucky family as they do not have young children and the monthly food ration they receive does not run out too soon.

COPING WITH THE COLD


WFP Field Monitor Tala Bismar with Um Muhammed inside the room where her family soke temporary refuge.

“We can’t afford heating fuel, so we remain in bed covered with blankets most of the time”
They are among 2,000 internally displaced families in Saidnaya that receive WFP food assistance, but the cold and lack of heating fuel keeps them huddled most of the day in their not-so-warm, tiled guard’s room. “We have an electric heater that we use when electricity is on, but unfortunately it is off most of the day,” says Um Muhammed. “We can’t afford heating fuel, so we remain in bed covered with blankets most of the time.” 

The three live off Abo Muhammed’s pension and what Jihad earns working as a minibus driver, which is not more than 18,000 SYP (US$80) per month. This little sum is supposed to cover expenses of food, medicine, utility bills and buy them cooking and heating fuel. 

They spend almost half of their small income on medicine as both parents suffer from rheumatism, diabetes and high blood pressure. “We need 1,000 litres of heating fuel each winter, which is over 200,000 SYP (US$1100) and we can’t afford any of it.”
“We collect dried branches from the park for cooking and heating,” said Um Muhammed as she waited for the electricity to turn back on to cook lunch for her family. 

LOOKING BACK


Abo Muhammed fled clashes in Qaboun two years ago with his wife and youngest son Jihad, 25. They now live on the grounds of a deserted theme park. (Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh)

As Abo Muhammed leans on this cane his sunken face tells the story of more than 11 million Syrians who have fled their homes to other Syrian cities or to neighbouring countries in the past four years. Their hopes reduced to being warm and fed. 

Some still think of the plants they left in their gardens, their cats or the smell of trees in their neighbourhoods; simple memories that keep them going towards an uncertain future. Not knowing whether their house still stands or not, they can only hope that one day they will have a home to return to.