I Live In A Syrian Refugee Camp & I’m Terrified Of Coronavirus

Fatim Khaled Al-Othman
Fatim Khaled Al-Othman is 45 years old. She lives in southern, rural Aleppo in a beat-up, rusty truck which she and her family were given. They are displaced because of the war that has been ravaging Syria for the last nine years.
Her husband died of a heart attack three years ago, and Fatim took the decision to leave the family home after bombing destroyed her village. She left with just a handful of possessions and her four children: Aisha, aged 12, Hussein, aged 10, Honest, aged 8 and Daham, aged 6. 
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Fatim and her family have lived in this small refugee camp for two months. They want and desperately deserve a better life but they have nowhere else to go and no money to pay for rent or food. The family relies on aid, which is scarce.
Daily life is hard here, and it’s only going to get harder because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

We are staying in this car. Eating, drinking and sleeping. We have no toilets or water. We have nothing. I have no support. None of my children can work, they are all too young. What can I do?

Fatim
"We eat, drink and stay inside [the truck]," she explains. "We are waiting for Allah’s forgiveness. It was not easy what we faced. We were displaced, we left our home. We live a very difficult life. I have nothing. No income. Only this little food to feed the children. No water. No electricity."
Fatim Khaled Al-Othman
"We are staying in this car. Eating, drinking and sleeping. We have no toilets or water. We have nothing. I have no support. None of my children can work, they are all too young. What can I do?"
The family share this small camp with other families who all face the same struggles. The flat expanse of land is filled with other vehicles and makeshift tents offering more temporary housing for displaced casualties of war. Chickens and goats roam around on the dusty grass and aside from the occasional sound of a cockerel crowing it’s relatively quiet, as families try to keep to themselves. 
Piled at the end of the truck are the family’s few possessions: a gas stove, blankets, bags of clothes and food jars – mostly empty. Precariously balanced at the top is a hygiene kit, a large white box that usually contains enough soap and detergent to keep Fatim's family safe and clean for a month. But right now that box is empty and it can’t be refilled because the aid agency that supplied it is awaiting another delivery of supplies to help ward off COVID-19. 
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The fear of the encroaching coronavirus is palpable here. Everyone has heard the rumours of this new invisible enemy and know that it’s reached Syria. As of 30th March the Syrian government had reported one death and 10 cases of COVID-19, although widespread testing hasn’t been carried out in most of the country. The Syrian government has instituted a lockdown in parts of the country it controls. 

As of 30th March the Syrian government had reported one death and 10 cases of COVID-19, although widespread testing hasn't been carried out in most of the country.

Even before COVID-19, illness and disease were rampant through camps, so it’s hard to think how families can protect themselves in these conditions. They have been told to keep washing their hands but soap and water are scarce. No one seems to be aware of social distancing and, even if they were, it would be hard to practise here in such conditions. 
"Another thing that is terrifying us is the disease they call corona," Fatim reflects. "My children are not clean. [I have] no detergents. I don’t even have a water tank. We have a little amount of water but that is barely enough. We live in this car and we have no place else."
"It is terrifying me that my children might get sick with the virus. When I clean them, they sit on the sandy floor and get themselves dirty again. They are children who need to get out. I put them in the car but they leave it and get themselves dirty."
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"No toilets or adequate water are available," Fatim continues. "I have no hand or washing soap. No medical equipment. If one of them gets sick I don’t know where to take them. I don’t know how to deal with it. And this is our status. What can we do? Oh Allah! I don’t know what we can do." 
Fatim Khaled Al-Othman and her Children
At this point Fatim breaks down into quiet tears and begins to rock in despair at her situation. 

It is terrifying me that my children might get sick with the virus. When I clean them, they sit on the sandy floor and get themselves dirty again. They are children who need to get out.

Fatim
Many fear that the virus could spread quickly in a country already ravaged by war. If the virus reaches camps, where people are already struggling with inadequate healthcare, poor hygiene provisions and overcrowding, it will spread at an alarming rate and is likely to cause a devastating and widespread loss of life.
Dr Hasan Alked works at the charity Human Appeal’s Al Imaan Hospital in Idlib, Syria. He says people are right to be so concerned. "A COVID-19 infection in our region would be disastrous, and the virus would spread rapidly and severely. Medical staff aren’t prepared, equipped or trained to deal with an outbreak of this level, and we are terrified what coronavirus could mean for families that are already weakened, distressed and unable to isolate themselves."
Human Appeal has launched an emergency coronavirus appeal to raise money for the most vulnerable communities in the UK and across the world. They are distributing family hygiene kits which are customised to protect against COVID-19 in nine countries, including Syria, helping people like Fatim keep themselves and their children safe. Each kit costs £70. Donate here
The World Health Organization says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.

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