Living in the Olive Groves

Endless Displacement: Syrians flee the Islamic State in Aleppo Countryside. (Originally published by Al-Gherbal magazine on September 6, 2015).

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(Photo: a camp set up in the groves to shelter displaced Syrians - Kafr Kalbin - Aleppo countryside - 5-9-2015 [Mahmud Abdur-Rahman/Good Morning Syria])
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“Most of these villages, whose residents were displaced by the followers of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had already provided shelter for hundreds of families fleeing Aleppo and the regime’s barrel bombs. Today, the Islamic State’s missiles have left the same people stranded with no place to go.”

div>(Aʿzaz, Aleppo Countryside) Abu Mazen(1) lives with his ten children in a small tent surrounded by olive trees near the village of Kafr Kalbin in the countryside of Aʿzaz. Although the tent hardly fits their belongings, it has become a home, a kitchen, and a bathroom for this big family. The children sleep inside, while the rest of the family sleep under the trees that shadow them during the day, since the tent is not designed to keep the heat out.
Abu Mazen and his family were displaced over 20 days ago from the village of al-Hamzat, near the town of Mariʿa, due to arbitrary shelling by the self-declared Islamic State (IS). “The missiles and rockets launched by the organisation (the Islamic State) used to fall meters away from our houses. We tried to stay at home, but then they were only one kilometre away and we had to leave,” he told Good Morning Syria.
In the northern countryside, the militants of the “caliphate” have been indiscriminately launching locally-assembled missiles and mortar bombs targeting border villages around Mariʿa for more than 25 days. This has led to the displacement of almost 30,000 residents of Mariʿa and the northern villages, 5,000 of which are currently living in tents and groves, according to the estimates of the local council of Aʿzaz
In fact, the IS seized five villages around Mariʿa, but it failed to enter the city despite its numerous attempts over the past ten days, which included all sorts of weapons and explosive devices used by suicide bombers.
According to photographer Mahmud Hasano, the Islamic State also raided the city of Mariʿa and its surroundings with toxic gases. “I went to Mareʿa to cover the military operations. As soon as you get there, they give you a mask to wear the whole time, but it doesn’t entirely protect you from teargases,” Hasano told Good Morning Syria. Moreover, local doctors noted that the effects of some of these gases only appear days later.
Most of the residents who were displaced from Mariʿa could not find shelter in the towns of the countryside, and are now living in dozens of small camps scattered in groves. Each camp hosts about 15 families. According to Abu Mohammad(1), who left the village of Sandaf for the woodlands of Kafr Kalbin along with his two wives and 13 children, the displaced families  have no access to the minimum level of services. “We don’t have water reservoirs, toilets, even the tents are not enough. One of my wives left me because I couldn’t find her a tent,” he said.
As for Abu Mazen, he fears that living in the orchards will become impossible a month later.“We’re now living in these groves, but when the olive harvest season came up, the residents of the village of Jibrin asked us to leave after we had stayed in their lands for some days. That’s why we moved to Kafr Kalbin,” he explained.
Many other families were relocated to villages that were not targeted by the Islamic State, and are now living in public facilities, including municipal and telecom buildings. Some residents have agreed to host displaced people for free, while others seized the chance to make money. “Rentals are too expensive and they (the landlords) ask us to pay three months in advance, but we cannot afford to pay without a job,” said Abu Mazen.
Activists in Aleppo and its countryside have launched a campaign dubbed “Repaying the Northern Countryside” to collect donations for those who were displaced from regions controlled or repeatedly raided by the IS. The campaign urged relief organisations and the Aleppo Emergency Room (a Syrian NGO) to assist the families that escaped the  Islamic State’s bombardments and its terrorising activities.
Most of these villages, whose residents were displaced by the followers of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had already provided shelter for hundreds of families fleeing Aleppo and the regime’s barrel bombs. Today, the Islamic State’s missiles have left the same people stranded with no place to go.

The name is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the source.

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