Photo Essay: Inside a makeshift underground shelter for Afrin’s displaced

The belongings Abu Shadi, Um Shadi and their ten children carried with them as they fled shelling that destroyed their home in late January hang on the bare, concrete walls of a basement in Afrin city. Brightly colored mats cover a dirt floor, and floral-patterned bed sheets create makeshift rooms in the dim space that is now a home for approximately 40 people.

Abu Shadi’s family arrived at this makeshift shelter in Afrin city, at the center of a Kurdish-held canton in northwestern Aleppo province with the same name, approximately one month ago. They had just fled Jandrees, a town near the frontlines of an ongoing Turkish-backed military operation against the local Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

In the first month of the operationdubbed Operation Olive Branchairstrikes, shelling and ground fighting in Afrin killed dozens of civilians. Some 16,000 residents in the canton fled their homes, including Abu Shadi, who is from Afrin’s minority Arab population.

Most of the displaced are now taking refuge in relatively calm Afrin city. There, they face aid shortages, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in makeshift basement shelters, Syria Direct reported earlier this month.

Here, Syria Direct’s Dilovan Hemdos visits Abu Shadi and photographs the basement shelter where he and his family are staying.

“It’s like a prison,” says Abu Shadi, “No human being can bear this type of life.”

Abu Shadi, right, sits with several of the 15 children who live in the shelter. The youngest resident is an infant—just several weeks old.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) provided the family with some food rations, but “it’s not enough,” Um Shadi says. “We need food, medicine and milk for the children.”

“We share everything, even food, in order to help each other out,” says Abu Shadi, a former construction worker. The families in the makeshift shelter cook meals once each day, using a simple gas burner.

“There’s no source of heat,” Abu Shadi’s wife, Um Shadi, says. “The children are dying from the cold.”

“Rainwater and polluted water comes down and gathers here,” Abu Shadi says. “There’s a repugnant smell.”

All photos courtesy of Dilovan Hemdos.

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.

Avery Edelman

Avery Edelman graduated from Tufts University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in Arabic and International Relations.