Syria downpour turns displacement camps into 'lakes'

Maaret Misrin (Syria) (AFP) –


Heavy rain has battered thousands of displaced Syrians living in tents in the country's rebel-held northwest in recent days, residents and the United Nations said Tuesday.

In the Maaret Misrin district of Idlib province, the makeshift tents of families displaced by war lay marooned in muddy puddles, an AFP correspondent said.

"We've been swimming in water for three days now," Abu Qassem, a father of eight, told AFP.

"Water has seeped into our tents and the women are trying to bail it out."

Nearby, rescue workers from the White Helmets group worked with bulldozers to remove excess mud.

"The camp has turned into a lake, tents in it," Mahmud al-Allawi, another resident, said.

"No words can describe our suffering," the 24-year-old added.

On Sunday, in a camp in the Kafr Uruq area, some residents tried to sweep the mud from the entrance to their tents, the same reporter said.

Thick woollen blankets cast over some dwellings to keep out the cold were sopping wet.

The luckiest adults and children were wearing rubber boots, but others ran around in the puddles in light sportswear, trousers rolled up to the knee and open-toe plastic slip-ons.

Senior UN humanitarian official Mark Cutts said the winter downpour had affected thousands.

"Miserable conditions in the flooded displacement camps in Idlib and other areas," he wrote on social media on Tuesday.

"And more bad weather to come, with forecasts of snow and temperatures dropping to -3 degrees Celsius in the coming days."

On Monday, he said at least 4,000 people in northwest Syria had been "severely affected when heavy rain and strong winds damaged or destroyed over 800 tents".

"Women in the camps told me about desperate conditions: everything drenched, people out in the open and unable to sleep at night," he said.

Syria's last major rebel bastion of Idlib is home to around three million inhabitants, around half of them displaced by military offensives across the country.

Among them are tens of thousands who fled a government offensive that whittled away at the south of the jihadist-dominated region last winter.

Syria's war has killed over 387,000 people and displaced millions since it started nearly 10 years ago.