Located in the northern countryside of the Aleppo Province, the Shimarakh Refugee Camp is perhaps one of the starkest reminders of the continued plight of the Syrians displaced due to the war that has now gone on for over six years and killed around 500,000 people.
Open and active for more than two years, the Shimarakh Refugee Camp is home to about 4,000 families, with a total of approximately 27,000 people who have been displaced from their homes. Yet despite having the population of a large town, the camp lacks many of the amenities needed to support its population. Residents in Shimarakh say that the camp lacks sanitation, basic utilities and clean water. Most importantly, the camp lacks the roads needed to supply it with the amenities that are missing here in Shimarakh. Residents say that most cars and motorcycles can’t traverse the mountainous paths leading to the Camp, preventing them from getting what they need elsewhere.
Another persistent issue is the lack of tents. Very few of the Syrians living here have access to tents suitable for long-term habitation. The rest are forced to use either cheap tents or re-purposed plastic sheets that offer little to no protection from the elements, particularly during Aleppo’s harsh winters. Tents getting flooded with mud is a regular problem, as is deaths caused from exposure. Residents here say that one family lost four of its children due to the harsh winter conditions.
The camp is also plagued with long-term issues such as the lack of education. Over the course of Syria’s long war, many children grew up in these camps without access to formalised education. As a result, many here don’t know how to read or write. Promises by authorities and support agencies to build schools have, so far, been just that, promises, fuelling fears of a lost generation. Recent revelations on aid money not reaching its intended recipients is, perhaps, most accurately represented here in Shimarakh.
Stark as they are, the stories coming out of Shimarakh are not unique. Similar stories come from the Atma Camp (also in Aleppo); the Taiba Camp in Idlib, the Rajm al-Sulaibi, al-Hol and Mabrouha camps in Deir ez-Zour and the Ruqban Camp in the Syrian Desert. All a testament to the horrors Syrians had to endure.