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  • 11:55 - 4 February 2020

Deir Ballout refugee camp: Where time stopped

DAMASCUS/ Quds Press-

One walks through the streets of Deir Ballout refugee camp in northern Syria only to discover that time has stopped in that area long ago.As the sun sets, everything calms down, except the sound of rain and roaring winds. In the morning a new but not different day begins.

Next to his tent, the Palestinian refugee Abu Khalil sits with a cigarette in his hand. "What can we do? No jobs.. Nothing to live for," he tells Quds Press."Every day I sit here and escape from reality to Yarmouk camp. In my imagination I wander there and walk the road I used to take to go to my library," he says.Abu Khalil stops talking to take a long drag of his cigarette then blows the smoke in the air lamenting his life.

While the Quds Press reporter wanders in the camp, he encounters groups of youths who, as the sun slightly appears among the thick clouds, rushes to spend some time outside their worn out tents.

Nearby, children's laughter is heard as they show their skills by jumping over water streams left by heavy rainfall.

Every now and then you hear cheers and shouts coming from the marbles (bananir) competition. The luckiest boy is the one who returns to his tent at the end of the day filling his pocket with new marbles which he has won in the competition.In another scene, a Palestinian woman in her forties washes her children's clothes in a plastic bowl. The Quds Press reporter says, "At first I hesitated to talk to her. Looking at her face I could tell how exhausted she was."

He adds, "When I approached her and she knew I was a journalist she said, in her Palestinian dialect, "Ahlan khaya (welcome brother)."She jokingly said: "Since we came to this camp many journalists came and went and we are still as we are. We haven't benefited from you."

Um Emad says, "Every day I have a "laundry party". I have four children. The streets are muddy and there is no electricity here."Um Emad continues, as she tells the Quds Press reporter about her daily routine, "I cook on an old kerosene stove or a wood fireplace where we put worn clothes, broke plastic pieces or firewood which they distribute to us."

"Bathing is the most difficult thing imaginable in the camp in this cold weather," she says, "Just imagine your children shivering from the cold and begging you to keep pouring hot water on their bodies."

"No exaggeration. Some people here only take a shower once or twice in a month because of the biting cold," Um Emad notes.Um Emad says, "We rarely have free time, but when we do, especially if the weather is sunny, women gather in one tent and together remember all the beautiful memories we had before the war."

She said, "One woman for example boasts about having a washing machine, a microwave, an air-conditioner or a TV back home, while little girls listen attentively almost unbelieving what is being said!"

The Palestinian activist Ibrahim al-Shehabi, in his interview with Quds Press, says, "People in Deir Ballout refugee camp have been living without electricity since their displacement in mid-2018. Some families have managed to purchase solar panels mainly for lighting."

"The power cuts cast a shadow on the lives of people here, and as the sun sets, you find no one on the roads," he adds.Touching on the students' suffering, al-Shehabi says that students find difficulty studying or writing homework with the weak lighting kerosene lamps and candles provide.

He adds, "People in the camp depend on the internet to follow the news and one becomes totally cut off from the world as soon as the mobile battery is empty.""We presented a proposal to install an electricity generator in the camp, but we were struck by the people's inability to pay the bills since one ampere, amid worsening crisis, costs 5,000 pounds," the Palestinian activist says.

According to al-Shehabi, about 300 Palestinian families are enduring an abject humanitarian situation in Deir Ballout refugee camp. Most of them came from Yarmouk refugee camp and other areas in southern Damascus.

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