icon icon icon icon icon icon icon

13 years on: How displaced Syrians have struggled to survive yet another winter in crisis

Ismail* with his daughter in a camp for internally displaced people in northwest Syria. Photo: 4K Production/CARE

Ismail* with his daughter in a camp for internally displaced people in northwest Syria. Photo: 4K Production/CARE

Ismail* had to flee from his hometown eight years ago due to the ongoing conflict in Syria. He has been displaced several times since then. Now he lives in a camp in northwest Syria.

Since the conflict erupted in 2011, more than 14 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes and over 300,000 have lost their lives.

“I spent many sleepless nights in fear of a sudden bombardment,” says Ismail. “I am constantly worried about the future of my children, my wife, and my relatives.”

Ismail and his six children have been moving from one place to another in search of safety. For now, they found refuge in a camp in a small town in Idlib, northwest Syria. Hailing from the northern countryside of Hama, Ismail is one of the 100 families living in this camp.

Like Ismail, an estimated 2.9 million, just in northwest Syria, have lost their homes. The situation there has further aggravated with the most recent escalation of conflict in October 2023. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) spiked once again with over 120,000 people displaced in just two weeks.

Across Syria, over 6.9 million people are now displaced in their own country, forced to live in numerous camps and informal settlements.


Winter makes internally displaced people's lives especially difficult. Photo: Shafak/CARE
Camps and informal settlements are faced with limited resources and support systems. Photo: Delil Souleiman/CARE

Life in a camp, unthinkable ordeal

Living in camps and settlements has its own share of burdens, with limited resources and support systems. The hardships of people exacerbate especially during the harsh winter season. From November to March, the temperature can plunge as low as 0°C (32F) leaving these individuals highly vulnerable.

“As the winter sets in each year, we brace ourselves worrying about the lack of means for heating, muddy roads, and the anticipated flooding of the tents when it rains or snows,” says Ismail. “To run the heater, I gather small pieces of scrap car tires since fuel is not always available or affordable.”

"I’m aware that smoke from burning tires pose health risks, but I must ignore that to stay warm at any cost.”

"When I’m not lucky enough, I only have blankets to wrap around my children in shivering cold,” Walaa says. Photo: 4K Production/CARE

Walaa*, displaced more than eight times

One of Ismail’s neighbors in the camp, Walaa, has been displaced more than eight times. As luck would have it, both Walaa and Ismail lived in the same area before the conflict erupted.

Walaa resides in the camp with her two children. Tragically, her husband lost his life as they fled from one place to another.

“Every year, winter engulfs us with its added layer of misery."

“Some of us do have heaters that often serve as a savior. But sometimes I find nothing to light my heater except for some small sticks or old, worn-out shoes. When I’m not lucky enough, I only have blankets to wrap around my children in shivering cold,” Walaa says.

Many families resort to burning unsafe materials, such as plastic and nylon, to keep themselves warm during the cold winter months since fuel is often a difficult commodity to obtain.

However, to help people like Ismail and Walaa in winter, CARE and its partner organization Violet provide various forms of assistance, including multipurpose cash assistance, protective tarpaulin sheets and winter clothes or blankets. Multipurpose cash assistance enables people to secure their most basic needs in camps and informal settlements.

"The biggest struggle is finding warmth." Photo: Delil Souleiman/CARE
Displaced people often sell the food baskets they receive to buy warm clothes for their children. Photo: Delil Souleiman/CARE

Internally displaced in northeast Syria

The situation for those forced to flee their homes in northeast Syria is no different, particularly around winter.

“The biggest struggle is finding warmth. We don’t have mattresses in the tent, no covers or heavy blankets and the living situation is extremely challenging,” says Fatima*, a resident of an informal settlement hosting IDPs in Raqqa, northeast Syria. “In winter, we must reduce our food intake and often eat only once a day. We do this to be able to sell the food baskets we receive and buy warm clothes for our children. Unfortunately, there is hardly any income opportunities during winter, unlike the summer harvest season when we can secure some earnings.”

“The winter in northeast Syria is exceptionally cold, with temperatures reaching 0°C (32F). It’s a time of extreme hardship and insecurity for many of the internally displaced people living in camps and informal settlements. More than 60 percent of the population of CARE’s target locations in northeast Syria are in specific need of winter assistance, with no prospect of receiving support without our interventions, this number represents an increase of 10 percent from 2022,” Jolien Veldwijk, CARE Syria’s Country Director says.

In northeast Syria, CARE and its partners have reached more than 9 million people since the beginning of the crisis with emergency assistance such as water, sanitation and hygiene, and protection services as well as longer-term support for livelihoods, building resilience and early recovery efforts.

CARE and its partners have been working with IDPs since 2013 with various forms of support including cash assistance, food, water and sanitation. Photo: 4K Production/CARE
Considering the growing needs of the displaced population, more funding is required for emergency response. Photo: Delil Souleiman/CARE

More funding required

CARE and its partners began responding to the needs of displaced Syrians in 2013 focusing on protection, particularly of women and girls, people’s basic needs including food, water and sanitation, and health services and economic empowerment, with a special focus on women and girls. However, considering the ever-growing needs, the ongoing assistance in northern Syria, including cash support, is grossly inadequate.

“As we face major funding gaps, our ability to respond to the winter needs of vulnerable communities is dwindling by the year."

“This year’s winterization campaign is currently funded at only 47 percent, meaning that we must prioritize offering the absolute minimum, like distributing plastic tarpaulin sheets and winter clothes to help people survive the winter,” Jolien Veldwijk concludes.

* Names changed

Back to Top