‘Everything is drenched’: Heavy flooding hits camps for displaced Syrians near Golan Heights

Heavy rain at the al-Karama camp in Quneitra on Wednesday evening. Photo courtesy of Abu Muhammad.

AMMAN: Everything Fatima owns is underwater.

Early Thursday morning, the tent that Fatima and her children have lived in for more than a year and a half collapsed after several days of heavy rain and strong winds struck a half-dozen displacement camps in Syria’s southwestern Quneitra province, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

“Everything we own is now submerged in water and mud,” Fatima tells Syria Direct.

Fatima lives in the al-Karama camp, which was established two and a half years ago in the demilitarized border zone separating Syria from the Golan Heights. Today, approximately 500 displaced people from Daraa and Outer Damascus provinces live in the camp, its director tells Syria Direct.

Al-Karama’s tents are “drenched in water and mud” on Thursday as days of heavy rain continue, camp director Abu Muhammad tells Syria Direct. “We’ve been trying to repair the damaged tents since the morning.”

Some of the camp’s residents are without shelter, with multiple families crowding together in the same tents until the rain subsides, Abu Muhammad says.

Heavy rain at the al-Karama camp in Quneitra on Wednesday evening. Photo courtesy of Abu Muhammad.

The latest rainfall is not the first time that inclement weather has damaged displacement camps near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In January 2017, a three-day snowstorm destroyed “half” of the tents in the nearby a-Rahmah camp in Quneitra province, Syria Direct reported at the time.

An estimated 1,200 families live in the informal Quneitra displacement camps, says Abu Muhammad, with each camp facing “similar” circumstances as a result of this week’s weather.

Despite repeated damages and reportedly difficult conditions in the camps, most residents cannot afford  to move elsewhere even temporarily, Abu Muhammad tells Syria Direct.

Abu Muhammad says that he has reached out to international aid organizations over the past year to obtain new tents and work towards winterizing the camp but to no avail.

The director says that the al-Karama camp receives humanitarian aid from Syrian Relief and Development (SRD), a Syrian-American aid organization with offices in the US, Turkey and Jordan. Two smaller, local charities also support the displacement camp.

Abu Muhammad says that his camp receives “little” aid, and that it does not include tents or fuel for heaters.

Syria Direct called SRD’s offices in the United States and Turkey for comment on Thursday, but did not receive a response.

Rain-soaked tents in the al-Karama camp on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Abu Muhammad.

Earlier in the winter, camp administrators laid rocks along the walkways and around the bases of tents in al-Karama in an attempt to stop mud from accumulating as it did last year, says Abu Muhammad. But “it wasn’t enough—the water came right through and covered it all,” he says.

Most of al-Karama’s residents are too poor to buy materials to improve the camp’s infrastructure, Abu Muhammad says, and many cannot afford to leave the camp and rent homes elsewhere in Syria.

“Some families can hardly buy bread sometimes,” Abu Muhammad says. “People don’t have the money to improve their situation.”

Renting a home near al-Karama is prohibitively expensive, says camp resident Fawaz Qablan.

Fawaz, a displaced Syrian from Daraa province, has been hosting his neighbor’s family in his tent since Thursday morning, when the roof of their tent collapsed and rain soaked the interior.

“Their blankets, their furniture, their clothes—everything is drenched,” Fawas said.

“God be with everyone in this weather.”