• Samer Asaid | Communications Associate

After 13 long years of conflict, 800,000 still live in flimsy tents that offer little protection or comfort. 

This is the reality for Um Musab. A 50-year-old mother of three, she fled her home and sought refuge in Idleb, along the Turkish border. 

For over four years, she lived in a cloth tent, sharing the limited space with her child's family. Overcrowding, lack of privacy and absence of basic amenities made daily life a struggle. 

"In the summer, we suffer from extreme heat inside the tent and fear cooking might burn it down. I struggle to keep my children safe from insects, snakes, and scorpions that might enter the tent," she says.

Living conditions in tents are especially challenging in times of harsh weather conditions. Photo: SDI

Similarly, Um Muhammad has been living in a tent with her eight family members, including a son who has a disability. They endure harsh weather conditions without adequate protection. 

"When winter comes, we prepare for floods and their aftermath." Heavy rain and snow cause leaks inside the tent, damaging furniture and making it impossible to stay warm. The lack of proper insulation means heating systems are ineffective against the cold. 

Although they provide immediate relief, tents are not cost-effective for long-term use. They require replacement every six months and lack proper sewage, drainage, and water supply systems. Families often rely on unregulated water sources, exposing them to waterborne diseases like cholera. 

"Conversations between family members can be heard from outside the tents. Without a door lock, security is a concern, especially since we are all women here,” comments Um Musab. 

Um Muhammad echoes these sentiments, highlighting the lack of private bathrooms, kitchens or separate bedrooms.

Musab does laundry outside her new dignified shelter unit, which allows her family to live much more comfortably. Photo: SDI

In the aftermath of the 2023 earthquakes, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its partner Social Development International (SDI), with funding from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), joined forces to construct 660 dignified shelter units across Northwest Syria, benefiting  496 households.  

Um Musab's and Um Muhammad's families moved into these new shelters. These units, built from concrete and sandwich panels and with a steel structure, offer durability and protection against harsh weather conditions and provide much-needed privacy and security. 

"The situation has changed for us. In the summer, there is no more unbearable heat; in the winter, no more cold and rain seeping into our tent," expresses Um Musab.  

"Now we have a door, a window, and a wall we can lean on. There is a lock and key, and we now have a kitchen, a sink, and a bathroom. These things were non-existent in our previous shelter," adds Um Muhammad.  

In total, since 2022, IOM has installed over 8,100 dignified shelter units in Aleppo and Idleb Governorates. 

Um Musab's son enjoys gardening in the outdoor area of their shelter. Photo: SDI

The move from tent to dignified shelter represents more than just a change in living conditions – it is a symbol of hope and resilience for thousands who don't see an end to the conflict in sight. 

While the new shelters have significantly improved living conditions for many, challenges remain for 4.2 million people in Northwest Syria still in need of humanitarian assistance. Access to food, healthcare and livelihood are still limited. Where Um Musab and Um Muhammad live, the nearest health center is five kilometers away; the only affordable market, even further. 

The scale of work needed to rebuild Northwest Syria is immense. 

For now, Um Musab and Um Muhammad can at least start to rebuild their lives with the comfort and security of a roof over their heads – ready to face future challenges with renewed strength. 

Written by IOM Communications Associate, Samer Asaid