Herve Bar, AFP
Last updated: 9 October, 2012

Camp for internally displaced persons opens inside Syria for first time

The first formal camp inside Syria for civilians driven from their homes by the nearly 19-month conflict began admitting displaced families on Tuesday, an AFP correspondent reported.

The new camp, just a stone’s throw from the Turkish border, opened its doors amid mounting pressure from Ankara for the international community to do more for the displaced inside Syria to stem any new exodus of refugees.

The first few families arrived by bus, clutching suitcases and plastic sacks, from the adjacent village of Atme where they had been camping out rough.

Each family was allocated a tent, mattresses and blankets. Electricity, drinking water, showers and meals were provided courtesy of foreign donors, notably from Libya.

Libya, which itself overthrew veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a bloody uprising last year, has been a major backer of the Syrian rebels who control the hill country along this far western section of the Turkish border.

Almost 40,000 square metres (nearly 10 acres) of agricultural land has been bought from farmers, and olive trees have been uprooted to make way for the camp which is intended to accommodate up to 5,000 people.

For the new arrivals, many of whom have spent months camped out in the open close the barbed wire of the border in increasingly insanitary conditions, the toilet blocks are a major draw.

Nasser Khalil rushed to install his family in one of the nearest tents, anxious for his sick and elderly mother.

A woman whose husband is off fighting with the rebels and who gives her name only as Aisha gets a tent to herself and her two children.

Ahmed, a refugee from the battleground city of Aleppo, says he intends to remain in the rebel-controlled camp until they achieve victory.

“I am not moving any more until Assad’s overthrow,” he said, adding that he, his wife and their six children have already moved three times in their flight from the fighting engulfing Syria’s commercial capital.

The camp provides some sanctuary from the bloodshed. The closest Syrian troops are about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the camp.

But the threat of artillery fire is never too far away. On Monday, a shell fired from the Syrian side hit the Turkish township of Altinozu, a little further south along the border.

Hatay province, in which Altinozu lies, is the main reception area for the more than 100,000 Syrians who have found refuge inside Turkey.