Joshua Hersh at Virginia Quarterly Review:
Refugees and the displaced never have it good, but by all accounts the conditions at Atmeh by late 2012, when its population was estimated at roughly 15,000 people, were especially wretched. (Atmeh’s population is now believed to be closer to 30,000). In March 2013, the UN conducted a satellite survey of the area and counted around 2,000 tents in a sprawling mass. Two months later, a second tally found more than 3,000 bunched together over two discrete areas—an increase of almost half.
The camp was slowly but undeniably becoming a slum—one that under any other circumstances would be considered uninhabitable. The refugees at Atmeh had just endured the second winter of the war, many of them suffering through it without heat, electricity, running water, or decent toilets, only to find their problems were getting worse. Desperate to keep warm, many took risks—with catastrophic effects. Over New Year’s, a tent fire caused by a family burning a kerosene lantern killed two children and left several others in critical condition. Lina Sergie Attar, a Syrian-American writer and humanitarian worker, happened to be in the camp shortly before the fire, and she met a twenty-year-old mother of two named Manar, who told of a similar experience.