Where are they now? More fortunate east Aleppo evacuees land in Idlib province, others at camps on Turkish border

In December, an estimated 35,000 east Aleppo civilians, fighters and their families evacuated east Aleppo and left for opposition-held territories outside the city as part of a ceasefire agreement between regime and rebel forces. 

Last month, Syria Direct interviewed two of these residents—Umm Yazan, 30, a nurse, and Abdelqader Abu Salah, 29, a citizen journalist—as they prepared to leave their homes in east Aleppo.

Now, Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier catches up with Umm Yazan and Abu Salah to find out more about their new lives in rebel-controlled Idlib province. She also speaks with an electrical engineer who lost one of his children in an Aleppo bombing. 

All three describe exorbitant rent prices and a merciless welcome.

Rent ranges from SP8,000 ($37) to SP40,00 ($187) a month, too much for people who were displaced, lost most of their belongings and remain unemployed.

As a result, several families often cram into one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments.

We escaped the shadow of death, only to find people here who are taking advantage of us. The only thing that concerns them is filling their pockets with money,” says Umm Yazan.

 “Emigration Again,” by Moustafa Jano. Photo courtesy of The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution.

“Our minds and souls are sick. They need to be restored so they can relearn love, honesty and selflessness.”

Umm Yazan al-Halabi, 30, worked as a nurse in the al-Hakim Children’s Hospital, which closed in late November after Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes. When interviewed in December, she described the destroyed streets and houses and wondered whether the city’s silent dead lost their lives “in vain.”

My tears have not run dry since I left Aleppo. But once I arrived in Idlib, I was truly shocked by the high cost of rent in the province. We escaped the shadow of death, only to find people here who are taking advantage of us. The only thing that concerns them is filling their pockets with money.

I chose Idlib, hoping that my husband and I would find work in the city. But I was shocked by the way lessors treated us. They sold the revolution for money.

One time, I went to check out a house that was for rent. Although it had one bedroom, a living room and a bathroom, the landlord asked for SP45,000 ($210). We only have SP100,000 ($467) in savings, and this is after selling all of my wedding jewelry. I told the landlord, ‘have mercy on your fellow citizens, who have been humiliated. We are your guests, treat us so. Please, don’t add to our humiliation.’

He responded coldly, ‘If you don’t want it, I know several people who will take it for a higher price.’

I have cried for my country, during every stage of this war. But we don’t love each other, despite everything that has happened to us. People are only concerned with making personal gains.

Those people who are using others, they are the ones who crushed the revolution. Our minds and souls are sick. They need to be restored so they can relearn love, honesty and selflessness.

We feel defeat and sorrow for our situation now. We’re even more troubled when we see people who don’t care about what’s happening in our country.

Right now, my husband and I share a one-bedroom, one-bathroom place with four other families. We pay SP8,000 ($37) a month.

Abdelqader Abu Salah, 29, is a citizen journalist who lived in Mashhad district. He is a married father of three children, one of whom died in the latest bombings, along with his parents. In his December interview, Abu Salah describes burning down his house and car, and other belongings he could not take, as he prepared to depart Aleppo. “In these moments, I wish I would die, rather than leave,” he said at the time.

You’re lucky if you find a house to rent in Idlib. So many people are concentrated here because of the regime’s practice of [forced] evacuation.

I chose to settle in the countryside, in Maarat al-Numaan, because rent is very expensive in Idlib city.

Our first and foremost priority after arriving in Idlib was finding a place to live. After a painstaking search, my brother and I found a small house for our families to live. We split the rent, which is SP10,000 ($47).

What else can we do in these prevailing circumstances? Many times, several families live with each other in the same house because they can’t afford rent on their own. It’s difficult, especially considering the war and lack of job opportunities.

Things are hard, and some people take advantage of our situation. But we have no other choice but to accept it and pay up until we find another solution. People who don’t have savings or a means of supporting themselves went to the border camps since they can’t afford rent.

[Ed.: Idlib border camps include: Atma, Qah, Aqrabat and the Jabal Harim area.]

Anas a-Dabas is a 30-year-old electrical engineer who worked for a medical organization in Aleppo. He is married with one child.

Once we left Aleppo, we had to decide whether to go to Idlib or to another area, like the west Aleppo countryside. This was a difficult decision. Many evacuees hadn’t yet decided where to go, especially since liberated towns in Idlib aren’t safe. These areas aren’t immune to what happened in Aleppo.

For those of us who chose Idlib, we faced another problem—finding a safe place to live. Finding secure housing is the second-biggest obstacle that every displaced Aleppan struggles with, after choosing a place to go. 

We had trouble not only finding a place to rent, but affording it. Monthly rent starts at SP8,000 ($37) and can reach SP35,000 ($164) or SP40,000 ($187). Rent varies in each area—prices in the countryside differ from those in main cities like Idlib, Saraqeb and Maarat al-Numaan.

Aleppans can’t afford these high rents. We were living under siege and bombs, and our belongings were destroyed. But there are people who profit from the war in every part of Syria. They take advantage of displaced people’s needs for shelter by charging high prices, since there is no oversight or regulation.

We feel defeated about what is happening. Many families don’t have a means to support themselves. How will they afford a place to live?

We won’t succeed with our revolution because of these war profiteers. They have no mercy. 

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

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.