February 14, 2020

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Cold in Syria: "We die in silence"

Cold in Syria

In the middle of winter, half a million children in Syria are fleeing from the advancing Assad troops. Some die of cold.

Children in a tent

Children freeze in the Azaz refugee camp Photo: Khali Ashawi / reuters

BERLIN taz | Anyone who took the M4 motorway from the Syrian Mediterranean coast inland to Aleppo could expect a surprise: in winter, little snowmen adorned the hoods of the cars on the oncoming lane that came from the mountains of the Idlib region. Snow only falls in Syria in a few areas – and only in the very cold winter weeks.

For hundreds of thousands of children who are currently sleeping in improvised tents, under trees or bridges in northwestern Syria, these winter weeks are a disaster. Around half a million children have been forced to flee since the beginning of December. And with every kilometer that the Syrian government forces advance – supported by the Russian Air Force – the number increases.

Children's photos from northwest Syria are making the rounds on social media these days: Eman Laila's eyes are wide open, a fixed gaze into the void. The girl, whose family fled from the Damascus region in the northwest of the country, is said to have been one and a half years old. Then came the cold death. To information the aid organization MedGlobal she died in a refugee camp near Afrin, north of Idlib.

Another photo shows a man dead on a mattress. Two children wrapped in blankets, also dead, are nestled close to his side. The authenticity of the photo could not be checked by the taz, but both warning calls from numerous aid organizations that are active in the region, as well as video and photo material from the region, confirm the catastrophic situation in Idlib and the surrounding area.

"The weather is freezing," says a young woman who is close to tears and visibly freezing, in a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday, "nobody tries to help people." Many want to flee, she says, but there is a lack vehicles. A day later she wrote in a post: "How to die in silence."

Everything that burns is burned

Nobody knows exactly how many deaths the low temperatures have caused in recent weeks. The UN emergency aid agency Ocha only speaks of "several children", which also the Safe the Children aid organization approved, Last Tuesday, according to the UN, five people also died of suffocation when they burned materials in their shelter that separated toxic gases. The photo with the father of the family is said to show three of them.

"In order to stay warm at short notice, families who were able to take part of their belongings while fleeing their homes burn everything they can find," says a Okha situation report on northwestern Syria, published on Thursday. Last week, the temperatures dropped to -7 degrees.

This does not stop the Syrian regime and its allies in Moscow from advancing inexorably. The pattern is always the same: bombing is carried out from the air before government troops take over the often deserted places bit by bit.

The Assad regime was able to take complete control of the M5 motorway, which also runs through Idlib on its way from Damascus to Aleppo. Taking the M4 could be Assad's next strategic goal, but the fight for Idlib's eponymous provincial capital is still pending.

Idlib City had 165,000 inhabitants before the war, but is estimated to have grown to over one million due to the influx of refugees. The Syrian-Russian bomb planes have largely left the city alone in recent weeks. But the government in Damascus has repeatedly emphasized that it wants to bring all of Syria back under its control. An attack on the city would further exacerbate the already catastrophic situation of people in northwest Syria.

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