Hundreds of displaced Daraa residents living in abandoned cow barn: ‘We’re not living like human beings’

In a large concrete cow barn in southwest Daraa province, only a few kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border, hundreds of displaced people wake up every day, cook their meals and take care of their children.

This is home for roughly 300 displaced Daraa families: An abandoned dairy and cattle farm once owned by a Syrian-Libyan company before the war.

Many of the families currently living in the barn in the Jileen area of Daraa fled their homes in the Yarmouk basin area of southwest Daraa province earlier this year amidst fierce battles between Islamic State affiliates and other rebel factions. More recent arrivals are from rebel-held, central Daraa towns that are currently the site of aerial and ground bombardment by regime forces.

Local civilian authorities lack the funds to provide healthcare, sanitation and humanitarian aid to those living in the barn, Abdullah, a member of the Daraa provincial council and supervisor of the camp tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.

There are about 150 children under the age of two who need milk,” says Abdullah. “We fear that diseases such as malaria and typhoid will spread.”

“We’re people, but we’re living with animals,” says Abu Mohammed, a barn resident who says he and his family recently fled their central Daraa home with “nothing except the clothes on our backs.”

 Displaced children play in the cow barn they call home in southwest Daraa province. Photo courtesy of Syrian Voice.

“There’s no water, no electricity, no gas to cook our food,” says Abu Mohammed. Inside the barn, for privacy, “we hang pieces of fabric between the stalls.”

“We’re not living like human beings.”

Abu Mohammed is a displaced Daraa resident currently living in the barn.

We fled our homes because of the heavy regime bombing of Ibtaa [central Daraa]. We took nothing except the clothes on our backs.

We’re people, but we’re living with animals. We hang pieces of fabric between the stalls to divide us from other families.

 Storage in the barn. Photo courtesy of Syrian Voice.

There are no doors or windows. There’s no water, no electricity, no gas to cook our food. We have none of the basic necessities of life.

We’re not living like human beings.

[Ed.: Some camp residents make a living by raising livestock, which belong to them. The cows currently in the barn are their own and do not belong to the original cattle farm, Syria Direct’s partner site Syrian Voice reported.]

Abdullah is a member of the Daraa provincial council, a veterinarian and the supervisor of the camp. 

These people don’t have a source of livelihood. They can’t afford tents. They work on [nearby] farms to secure some food.

The situation is terrible. As the provincial council, we don’t have the means to provide them with anything. There are about 150 children under the age of two who need milk and healthcare. There are no schools for children.

 Displaced people share living space with livestock in Daraa. Photo courtesy of Pulse Media Foundation.

We have asked [local humanitarian] organizations to personally deliver aid so they can see people’s situation. Until now, there has been no response, and there are new families coming into the shelter.

We fear that diseases such as malaria and typhoid will spread because the unsanitary conditions and absence of healthcare.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Jessica Page, Reporter/Translator

Jessica was a 2013-2014 Georgetown University Qatar Scholarship Program fellow in Doha, Qatar. She received her BA in both Arabic and International & Area Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked and studied in Jordan, Oman, and Qatar.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.