IDLIB, Syria — Among the millions of Syrians who fled as the government bombed their towns, destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones are 150 families squatting in a soccer stadium in the northwestern city of Idlib, sheltering in rickety tents under the stands or in the rocky courtyard.
Work is scarce and terror grips them whenever jets buzz overhead: New airstrikes could come at any time. But the fear of government retribution keeps them from returning home. More than 1,300 similar camps dot Syria’s last bastions under rebel control, eating up farmland, stretching along irrigation canals and filling lots next to apartment buildings where refugee families squat in damaged units with no windows.
“People will stay in these places with all the catastrophes before they go live under the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” said Okba al-Rahoum, the manager of the camp in the soccer stadium.
On a rare visit to Idlib Province, examples abounded of shocked and impoverished people trapped in a murky and often violent limbo. Stuck between a wall to prevent them from fleeing across the nearby border with Turkey and a hostile government that could attack at any moment, they struggle to secure basic needs in a territory controlled by a militant group formerly linked to Al Qaeda.
bused them here after conquering their towns. They drove in with trucks piled high with blankets, mattresses and children. Some arrived on foot, with few possession besides the clothes they wore.
Last year, an offensive by the Syrian government, backed by its Russia and Iran, pushed nearly a million more people into the area.
About 2.7 million of the 4.2 million people in the northwest, one of the last of two strips of territory held by a rebel movement that once controlled much of Syria, have fled from other parts of the country. That influx has transformed a pastoral strip of farming villages into a dense conglomeration of makeshift settlements with strained infrastructure and displaced families crammed into every available space.
SHINE, an education organization, urged a group of women at an event in Idlib to refuse polygamous marriages, which are permitted under Islamic law.
The next day, gunmen closed SHINE’s office and threatened to jail its manager, Ms. Kisar said.