Middle East

Syria conflict: Internally displaced struggle to survive

Boys stand on the edge of the Jaramana district of Damascus
Image caption The UN estimates the number of internally displaced people in Syria at more than 6.5 million

From the edge of Jaramana in eastern Damascus, you get a view of what was once a frontline in the battle for the Syrian capital.

There is a cluster of buildings in the distance, with bits of steel and cement hanging from the edges, and the top floors almost completely collapsed. They are in Dukhaniya, once held by rebels, now under regime control.

A stream of filthy water runs from Jaramana in the direction of Dukhaniya, and cows graze on a piece of farmland between the two areas. The children playing around refer to it sarcastically as "the river".

Overlooking the farmland is an unfinished building that houses about 25 families. They have all been displaced by the war, some of them several times.

'Chasing after charities'

It was pitch-dark in the hallway leading to Um Mohammed's flat.

Image caption Damascus houses the second largest number of IDPs after Aleppo in the north

A chilly breeze found its way through the cracks in the walls, and a dim light came in through the windows.

Her sons were out working to pay for their school books, and her daughters sat nearby, browsing through theirs.

Um Mohammed told me her family of seven are living in a flat without any running water, sewage, or even a sink. The walls are full of holes, and even when they manage to find logs to burn for heating, the wind still seeps in.

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Media captionLayla And The Wolf - the Arabic version of Little Red Riding Hood.

They have reconciled themselves to three hours of electricity a day, and they and their neighbours have laid mousetraps all over the building, which is infested with rodents.

"We used to live in dignity in our own houses," Um Mohammed said. "Now we're chasing after charities."

Economic pressure

Not all the displaced Syrians in Damascus live in run-down buildings. A first stop for many would be shelters run by local authorities, such as one in Qudsaya, on the western edge of Damascus.

It was originally meant to be a school, but the local authorities in rural Damascus turned it into a shelter when displaced families started pouring in.

There are currently about 90 families here, but the number keeps changing. People come here as a first step and they leave as soon as they find somewhere else to stay.

Image caption The government has set up shelters for the displaced in schools and other public buildings

The shelter provides accommodation, education and primary health care, and the workers are mostly volunteers, many of whom are themselves displaced.

The UN estimates the number of internally displaced people in Syria at more than 6.5 million, and Damascus houses the second largest number of IDPs after Aleppo in the north.

The number of people inside Syria classified by the UN as "in need of assistance" is 13.5 million.

Regime-held parts of the country, safe from air strikes and full of aid agencies, attract those Syrians who are not wanted by security services, and who can make their way safely to these areas.

But many IDPs still live on edge. The front-lines are constantly shifting, and even in safer areas, economic pressure is on the rise.

Um Mohammed and her neighbours live in fear of eviction because the owner constantly threatens to raise the rent.

"He can kick us out any time he likes," she said.

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