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World

Syrians suffer from lack of food, safety, medicine

Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing Syria. Given the lack of food, shelter and medical care for these refugees, aid organizations are sounding the alarm about the disastrous humanitarian situation.

One family spent days trying to reach the Syrian-Lebanese border. Then, with darkness to protect them during the night, they dared to make the crossing. But when the family reached the neighboring territory that would offer them refuge, they realized two of their children were missing. Lost in the rough terrain of the Lebanese mountains, the parents searched for their missing children for hours. In vain. The family ultimately continued on its escape - without the pair of children. Given the icy temperatures that prevail in the mountains in March, it was clear that the kids would only survive a few hours on their own. The war in Syria had not only stolen all of their worldly goods, but had also destroyed their family.

Children are the victims

A Syrian child crying, with people holding her hands Shaam News Network, SNN/AP/dapd

Children are most traumatized

Marc André Hensel, coordinator of aid for Syria at the German association World Vision Deutschland, said he hears such depressing stories in the camps for Syrian refugees located on the Lebanese side of the border. He's heard countless tales of such fates since he started working at the camps in March. Parents, whose children were wounded but could not receive medical attention and who died or were abused.

Children in particular suffer from the war. They are the ones with the greatest difficulty in dealing with the effects of the war. Many suffer from nightmares, Hensel told DW. Others feel they are being pursued.

"They just want to get away," Hensel said. "They are reserved, silent, in shock. Some do not even mention what they have experienced. Others don't stop talking, and you can tell they want attention and sympathy."

Stories circulate in the camp. Stories of government troops taking children hostage to make their parents compliant sound plausible to many in the camp since it's a method that apparently is frequently used against opposition members. "Others have told me that children have been tied to tanks as human shields so that people do not throw Molotov cocktails or shoot at them," Hensel said, adding that he considers the stories credible.

On the run for weeks

The horrors of the war are huge, said Donatella Rovera, who remained undercover in Aleppo for weeks during the spring for Amnesty International. During her stay, she said she met families who had changed their whereabouts four or five times within a very short amount of time.

"Every time they arrived at a peaceful zone, at some point, it would be attacked," she said. "They would have to move to another region, and another, and then another."

The refugees erratically wandering around Syria make up the largest group of those who have had to flee their homes because of the war. The United Nations estimates there are up to 1 million of them.

A Syrian woman who has lost her legs lying in a hospital bed

A Syrian woman lost her legs - and husband and two children - during a mortar shelling by Syrian forces

Many of them are injured and hope to receive medical care. But going to the doctor is not simply a matter of course. It often means relying on good, reliable personal connections. Many people fear going to the hospital, Rovera told DW, because the word is out that government troops seize those seeking medical aid and check their identities. If they find that they are active members of the resistance, they imprison them.

"And people know that when they are imprisoned, they are often killed," she added.

Many of the injured turned to looking for doctors underground. This is also not without risk since medically treating members of the opposition is punished with draconian means. "In really acute cases," Rovera said, "those injured must get themselves smuggled out of the country."

Dire lack of medication

The situation is also worsening for those who are not members of the opposition. Many medical centers and hospitals have been destroyed, said Tarik Jasarevic, spokesperson for the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO). Others have had to close due to interruptions in power supply. Ongoing clashes also prevent doctors and other medical personnel from being able to reach their workplaces.

A Syrian refugee in a Lebanese hospital Copyright: Don Duncan

A Syrian refugee made it to a Lebanese hospital

Even when doctors are present, they often cannot treat their patients because they lack the required medication. Around 90 percent of the medication used in Syria is produced locally, Jasarevic said. "If there's a lack of supply, then Syrians must buy the medication on the world markets - something they cannot afford right now." It is therefore not only victims of violent clashes, but also those with chronic diseases - such as heart problems, diabetes and cancer - who are suffering from a lack of medical attention, he said.

Massive amounts of food aid

The humanitarian situation is catastrophic in many regards. A spokeswoman for the UN World Food Program (WFP) said some 46,000 in Aleppo alone rely on food aid. WFP members helped 500,000 people in the month of July, the spokeswoman said. The number was supposed to be even greater, but the security situation prevented more aid from reaching the country - the war rendering even aid organizations into the powerless.

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