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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Life in ruins: Ancient sites shelter Syria’s displaced

Sarjableh has become a home to more than 50 families displaced from the southern countryside of Idlib during the war.

Mohamad Othman, 30, stands with his children beside their tent in the archaeological site of Sarjableh, Syria
Mohamad Othman, 30, stands with his children beside their tent in the archaeological site of Sarjableh, in the northern countryside of Idlib, Syria. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]

Mohamad Othman remembers going on school trips to ancient archaeological sites in Syria, never imagining one of them would become his home.

The 30-year-old and his family have been living in a tent amidst ancient ruins at Sarjableh near the Turkish border since fleeing for their lives some two-and-a-half years ago during a government offensive in northwestern Syria.

Rocks gathered from the site anchor down their tent, one of several dozen sheltering families who have fled their homes during the 10-year-old Syrian war.

Their clothes hang to dry on two lines strung between the tent and an ancient stone portico. Their children clamber over the rocks and balance on walls in this unusual, if not dangerous, playground.

“In the summer, we face scorpions, snakes and dust, and all the pressures of life, and in winter, the cold. The situation is desperate. There are no health services,” Othman said.

A father of four, he struggles to make an income, depending on seasonal work such as olive picking and any other jobs he can get. When there is no work, he is forced to go into debt to provide the basics. His children do not go to school.

“When the last bombardment and attack began, we left to come to here,” Othman said. “We did not find a place to take shelter, so we lived here, among the ruins.”

Sarjableh, an early Christian settlement with ruins dating to the 5th century, has been popular with the displaced because they do not have to pay to stay there, unlike other areas where landowners charge rent.

“Everyone here used to have land that we would farm and we had livelihoods in our villages and did not need anyone. But our fate was to be displaced,” Othman said.

“We did not leave our land by our own free will to come to an area that has been uninhabited for thousands of years.”

Not far from Sarjableh, in another corner of the northwestern province of Idlib, the ancient site of Babisqa is also providing shelter for those bombed out of their homes.

In an earlier phase of the war, rebels used the site as a base, operating from ancient caves hewn from the rock where wiring installed by the opposition fighters can still be seen.

Livestock farmers, took their sheep and goats with them when they fled into rebel-held areas from the territory now under Syrian government control. Today, sheep and goats feed amid the ancient stones, with poultry pecking on the ground.

A child stands in the middle of ruins of an ancient building in the archaeological site of Sarjableh, Syria
There are some 2.8 million displaced people in northwestern Syria, with 1.7 million of them in sites for the internally displaced, the United Nations says. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
Abeer abo Almajed, 10, sits in front of her family's tent in Babisqa, Syria
Abeer Abu Al-Majd, aged 10, sits in front of her family’s tent in Babisqa. The site, known as the Kharrab (Ruins) camp, shelters some 80 families. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
Aida al-Hassan, 44, poses for a photo amongst ruins at the archaeological site of Sarjableh,Syria
Aida al-Hassan, 44, poses for a photo at Sarjableh. Al-Hassan was displaced from the al-Ghab Plain in the Hama countryside 10 years ago and now lives with her family of 12 in the archaeological site. “I moved more than once until I settled in the ruins, where there is no rent, but insects and snakes are many,” she said. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
A man rides a motorcycle through the archaeological site of Sarjableh, Syria
A man rides a motorcycle through Sarjableh. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
Zahra Abu Khalifa, cooks potatoes with her children at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Babisqa, Syria
Zahra Abu Khalifa, 28, cooks potatoes with her children at Babisqa. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
A car decorated for a wedding drives through ruins at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Babisqa,Syria
A car decorated for a wedding drives through the ruins at Babisqa. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
Mahmoud Abu Khalifa stands in an ancient cave at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Babisqa, Syria
Mahmoud Abu Khalifa, 35, stands inside an ancient cave he uses to store his belongings and raise his sheep at Babisqa. “Before being displaced, we had agricultural land and farmed crops and lived from them and everything was great and we had these animals,” he said. Today, “the children live in ruins and mud.” [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
Fatima Mahmoud Abu Khalifa, 4, sits on an ancient stone, at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Babisqa, Syria
Fatima Mahmoud Abu Khalifa, 4, sits on an ancient stone in front of a herd of sheep owned by her father, Mahmoud Abu Khalifa. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
Louay Abu Al-Majd, 11, stands atop ruins at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Babisqa, Syria
Louay Abu Al-Majd, 11, stands atop ruins at Babisqa. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

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