January 29, 2020 / 12:01 PM / a month ago

A van becomes home for Syrian family as migrants crowd into northwest

AZAZ, Syria, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Syrian migrant Khodr Hmadi, his wife and two infant children have lived in a van parked in a muddy field since, three years ago, they used the vehicle to escape fighting in rebel-held Idlib.

This month relatives, internally displaced like Khodr by a renewed government offensive, arrived to join them.

“We eat, sleep and even wash up here,” Khodr said, outside the migrant camp in the northwestern town of Azaz where he was unable to secure a tent for his family. “The cold is harsh at night.”

The vehicle - a delivery van fitted with a canvas frame - can still be driven. However, with the last part of Syria still held by insurgents shrinking as the fighting rages on, Khodr has stayed put.

The Syrian army’s latest offensive has triggered a new thousands-strong exodus towards the border with Turkey, aid workers said this week. The United Nations estimates 3 million people live in the northwest border region, many of whom fled other parts of Syria earlier in the almost nine-year war.

With families struggling to find refuge as they move towards Azaz, some six km (four miles) from the Turkish border, Khodr has been joined by dozens of other people, including some from his home village.

“Our family is big and there isn’t enough room for us in the (nearby) tent,” said Jomaa, 17, who shares a van with his 11-year-old brother. When the rain is heavy, it fills the vehicle.

While Jomaa is unable to sleep in the van, he said at least it enabled his family flee the bombing. “We have no other options,” he said. (Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Azaz; editing by John Stonestreet)

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