By Abir Bassam

Idlib refugee camps: People under the siege

December 26, 2020 - 17:41

Idlib is a province located in northwest Syria. The district and its main city share the same name. Idlib’s name has been repeated with great importance since 2012, the early days of the war on Syria. It was the substitute entrance used to smuggle the terrorist group of al-Nusra and its branches: Fateh al-Sham, which was established and trained directly by Turkey and financed by Qatar, and Ahrar al-sham, which was established and trained by the Americans and financed by Saudi Arabia. 

Tens of refugee camps were set up in the province even before the start of eruptions. This fact was confirmed by a reliable inside source that I will name as Eisaa, for his own safety. 

Eisaa emphasizes that the eruptions did not start in the main city, Idlib, but in its surrounding, in particular al-Zawiea Mountain’s towns such as Binch, Kafer Takharim, and Ma’arat al-Nu’man. Most of the provocative parties that began the eruption movements were logistically and ideologically tied to Turkey, mainly the “Muslim Brotherhood”. 

However, there were other groups, such as the Union Socialist Party [USP] members, which initiated a coup against the government in the 1990s, and then again in 2011. When the disturbances reached their peaks, the USP members fled outside Syria in 2012. 
According to our source, the people’s movement towards the refugee camps started in 2011 by civilians who were tempted by money and food baskets that were distributed for free. 

The displacement was falsely connected to the massacre committed against the Syrian soldiers in Jesser Al-Shughour. According to Eisaa, the displacement took place long before the massacre, which was committed against a Syrian Military Point that was stationed in the Communication Center in Jesser Al-Shughour, which is a town located in al-Zawiea Mountain. It was the biggest massacre ever of military soldiers, and the second after the massacre of Nawa in Daraa province. The Free Syrian Army attacked the soldiers, killed them, and decapitated the head of the First Class Warrant Officer. He was the chief of the Point. The terrorist dangled his head from the roof of the center, after tying it to a rope.  

The incident was assured to me by chance by a Syrian military officer whose battalion was transferred to Jesser Al-Shughour, soon after the massacre. He was one of the people who collected the bodies of the soldiers. He said: “It was the first time in my life that I see a dead body. I cannot remember the exact number, they were too many. The bodies were mutilated and cut into pieces. They were distributed in two mass graves. The first mass grave was located near the Military Point in the Silos region. And the second one was in the Northern locality near a dumpster.” 

The Syrian officer, who fought against the terrorists for more than 9 years, adds: “We collected the bodies over two periods: the first time, it was on the 15th of May 2011; and the second was on the 18th of May 2011. It was the worst day of my life. Until today, whenever I remember the unpleasant incident, I can feel the smell of the bodies in my nose. Back then, I had a nervous breakdown.”

This incident was a major catastrophe, which deeply affected the morale of the people at the beginning of the eruptions. It was unprecedented in the history of Syria; this fact was repeated by the Syrian officer in his own words: “I had never seen anything like that in my whole life.” It was followed by many horrible unpleasant incidents in which the hearts of the soldiers were ripped out and eaten. The aim was to create a state of terror and fear among the Syrian soldiers and the government partisans. 

In March 2012, the government restored its control over Idlib. However, this was accomplished through military confrontation between the Syrian army and the armed terrorist groups. The situation was under control for three years. In 2015, the Anti- Lebanon Mountains were freed from ISIS and al-Nusra. It was a combined effort led by both the Syrian and the Lebanese armies, which went on together with the Hezbollah initiative operations to free the area from Hermel and Bekaa in Lebanon all the way to Qusayr province in Syria. The area for four years was a playground for the terrorist groups, who moved freely between Syria and Lebanon. 

According to our source, betrayal was the main reason behind losing Idlib ceding it to the terrorist groups. It was committed by members of the agents in the national committees that were initiated as supporters of the Syrian army, and who were fully equipped. In March 2015, the attack on the Syrian army was supported by a massive number of terrorists, which exceeded 50,000. They crossed the borders from Turkey. And for the first time names, such as al-Julani and al-Muhaissini, were heard of. They were the first leaders of Fatah al-Sham.

The refugee camps were already established by 2011. Everything was prepared, especially the camps near the Turkish borders. The camps were the center of focus of the world since the beginning of the war. They were used as markers to pinpoint the Syrian government as a brutal regime that exiled its own people after practicing excessive violence against them. However, these camps were not filled with refugees until 2015, the time in which the Syrian army withdrew from Idlib. 

Eisaa says: “Many of the displaced people on the Syrian-Turkish borders wanted to return to their towns and villages, especially that the food baskets and money became rare. However, the Turkish police and armed terrorists who controlled the camps prevented them, even in the early days of the displacement and before the beginning of the fights.” 

Those people were the fuel of the demonstrations. In an incident that happened in 2012, our source adds: “There was a funeral for a group of people; I was there, in Jesser al-Shughour. The men were killed in Beirut. The mourners at the funerals gathered at the Orontes Square of Jesser Al-Shughour.  They wanted to attack the police center, but they failed. The officer in charge prevented the police members from firing at the demonstrators, who were basically escorting the dead.” He says, “However, shooting at the demonstrators was only allowed after the Communication Center brutal massacre.” 

The camps of Jesser al-Shughour were the first to be prepared by Turkey. It is located close to the borders in the villages that spread in Turkmen Mountain. It is a series of villages that stretches between Latakia and Idlib provinces. The camps were built in cooperation between the Syrian Turkmens and Turkey. They worked closely; they spoke the Turkish language and have dual citizenship. 

According to Eisaa, in Turkmen Mountain, the biggest refugee camp lays in Khirbet al-Jouz. In addition, a mountain is a strategic place that links northern Latakian villages to western- northern Idlib villages. And it extends to the Syrian-Turkish borders.  

In these camps, which are located on the Syrian land, around three million Syrian refugees live. The area of the camps is still occupied by the terrorist groups which are controlled by the Turkish military forces nowadays. In 2018, Tahrir al-Sham was abandoned by the Americans and its members were regrouped in Fatah al-Sham and in ISIS. 

Eissa explains that the people in the camps live in degrading humanitarian situations, even unfit for animals. The people stay in textile tents, which are usually flooded with water in winter and cause the sleeping brushes to sink; and the wind might easily cause the tents to fall over the heads of its tenants. The elderly and the children are the most injured. The tents are not equipped for facing the hard winter of the region. In summer, the area is filled with harmful and deadly reptiles, such as snakes and scorpions. 

Eissa met with many refugee camps’ residents. He asked them: “How could you bear the life in the camps?” Unfortunately, many of them cannot afford to move into houses. The rent is around $100 and more, which they cannot afford. They barely can pay for providing bread, which is 150 times more expensive than its real price in Syria. 

The displaced refugees are of two kinds. The first is the terrorist fighters and their families who came from Damascus and its countryside, Homs, Daraa, and Deir Ezzor that refused to reconcile with the government; they constitute the minority of the displaced.

The second group is the majority. They come from the villages of Idlib and Aleppo. Most of their lands were freed from terrorists. However, they are held as prisoners. They were not allowed to return to their lands and houses. They are held as hostages of the ultimate political agreement.   

Eisaa stresses, “The camps are a begging gateway for Turkey. It works through organizations that steal more than 90 percent of the aid that the Syrians should receive in the camps.”  Organizations such as Violet, Shafaq, and Cool Turkey benefit by marketing expired food products, canning, packaging, and reselling them to local organizations. “If the money used were given to the people, they would have been better off”, emphasizes Eissa. These organizations are tied in their performance to the EU and to Turkey.

Stories of injustice and rape in the camps would blow anybody’s mind. Poverty is forcing people to sell their body organs. Many under-aged girls are forced to marry the highest bettor. Men are forced to divorce their wives to marry members of the Turkish police, or so that they can get a Turkish identity. The recurrent incident was told to Eisaa by someone who lives in Khirbet al-Jouz camp. He is the father of six children, five girls, and a boy. His wife divorced him and married a Turkish soldier. After the marriage, the Turkish military authorities expelled him from the camp and prevented him from seeing his children.

Furthermore, the children of the camps between the ages of 6- 15 do not receive any education. Illiteracy prevails! One of the workers with Violet's organization told our source that the organization does not support education. Any reason could be enough to close schools. Children most of the day room the streets or the garbage containers looking for something to sell. The children of the camps are only encouraged to be part of the war game. They are recruited by Turkey at a young age to become the next terrorist fighters in the future. Fortunately, the training camps were destroyed in the joint Russian-Syrian aircraft raids two months ago.

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