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Displaced Syrians set up camp at Idlib football stadium


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Idlib (Syria) (AFP)

In the parking lot and beneath the stands of a football field in the city of Idlib in north-west Syria, families have nowhere to go after fleeing war in tents.

"It is a football stadium. It is unfit for life," said Abu Fawz, 32, dressed in an aviator jacket and an upturned red baseball cap.

"There is no electricity, no water and no bathroom" apart from the portable toilets, says the father of three.

"People come and go" and there is no privacy.

Since December, government forces backed by Russia have been carrying out a deadly offensive to retake the last major opposition stronghold of Idlib, in north-western Syria.

They recovered dozens of towns and villages from jihadists and allied rebels supported by Turkey, causing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the almost nine-year-old civil war.

The attack forced nearly a million people, mainly women and children, to flee their homes and shelters in the region.

Abu Fawz and his family fled the bombing of his hometown of Maaret al-Numan at the end of last year.

"Thank goodness I managed to save my wife and children," he says.

After grabbing the bare necessities while the city was emptying, they rushed north to the provincial capital of the city of Idlib, but struggled to find a home there.

"We were stuck in the streets until we were told that there was a camp at the football stadium," said Abu Fawz.

– & # 39; The tragedy & #8211;

Unable to find a place in overcrowded camps or pay rent in town, many of those displaced in recent months have slept in fields or sought refuge in schools, mosques and unfinished buildings.

In the middle of winter, AFP correspondents saw families forced to sleep in their cars, in underground shelters, in a cemetery hall and even in an abandoned prison.

On the wet field of the Idlib football stadium, fresh laundry is hanging out to dry outside the rows of white tents and along the edges of the field.

A motorbike sets off to park in the shade of the bleachers, while the kids crowd along the paths between their canvas houses.

Standing between the tents, 65-year-old gynecologist Umm Sanaa says she is also from Maaret al-Numan.

After her house was bombed four months ago, she was pulled under the rubble and taken to the hospital. When she recovered, she came to live in the camp.

"It is a tragedy," she says.

"We want a peaceful solution so that everyone can go home – if only to eat bread."

– & # 39; Nothing here & #8211;

The Idlib conflict has intensified in recent weeks, with Turkey directly intervening after the murder in late February of 34 of its soldiers in an alleged air strike in Damascus.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes a ceasefire will be established when he meets with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

But a new report found that the fighting in northwestern Syria has left large parts of the region uninhabitable.

Save the Children warned that, even in the event of an immediate ceasefire, it would take "months if not years" to rebuild destroyed civilian infrastructure and the confidence of communities to return.

Standing on the terraces overlooking the green soccer field, Jana, 10, says she dreams of returning to a normal life – and to school.

"Children want to learn," says the girl, born a year before the start of the civil war, who, according to the United Nations, has deprived some 280,000 children of education in the northwest of the country alone. Syria.

"We need schools," she adds, standing over the running track in a blue sweater and a black scarf decorated with stars.

"There is nothing here to fill the void."

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