Facing COVID-19 at a refugee camp in Syria
By Michal Bardavid

"Nowadays, I have to choose between buying a disinfectant or bread for my family," said Bassan Anadani, as he describes the struggle his family is facing at a refugee camp in Syria's Idlib province. He is one of the 6.7 million Syrians who were displaced inside the country due to the civil war that began in 2011. 

Bassan and his family had to flee their village 10 hours away from Idlib due to the fighting. He is a father of five children, two of them with disabilities. 

Bassan experienced the worst of COVID-19: "I was especially afraid because my mother died of corona. Then on the TV when the news started to talk about the virus, we got even more scared. I was more afraid of it than the airstrikes."

He too, got infected but luckily survived. He said they are completely "dependent on the aid that comes from the NGOs, as you know there is zero work here."

Most of the people at the Khalife camp were infected by COVID-19 because "living conditions are tragic here," said Thaljy Abu Ali who was displaced from his home in Sinjar. People here live in constant fear of getting infected by COVID-19.

"First, because we don't have a tent that we can isolate in. Now, if I got corona where would I isolate myself?" Thaljy shares a tent with four other family members.

He explains that when many in the camp were infected, "it was very painful for the families here. Most of them couldn't afford to go see a doctor. There were no doctors. They were going to the pharmacy asking for pain killers just to make it through the day."

Life before the pandemic was already difficult for families living at this camp. During the winter, the tents barely keep out the cold. And in the summer – it becomes too hot. 

Thaljy said, they "don't have the basic needs for the summer. No fans, no coolers, no refrigerator… if you cook something here it goes bad on the same day. Why? Because there is no refrigerator to keep our food in it."

For many of the displaced Syrians – looking back at their previous lives – this was unimaginable, "we had very big houses, we had electricity, water, coolers... So you can imagine before we were living a perfect life and now we're in a tent. There is nothing that can support life in this camp."

It's difficult to grasp the kind of difficulties that are faced here daily with the added burden of the COVID-19 pandemic – and this, on top of 10 years of a traumatizing war. But despite the pain and despair the adults describe, the children at the Khalife camp still find joy as they run around and play together in the sand with rocks in their hands.

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