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One jacket between two brothers

Within Syria, it is estimated more than six million people are displaced by conflict. Nearly 70 precent of the population lives in acute poverty.

Abdullah rubs the stem of a flying dragonfly toy between his palms, as if for warmth, and gasps with delight as friction shoots the colourful propellor into the air.

The dragonfly, caught in a gust, soars high and then crashes onto the broken concrete, its wing and dowel separating on impact.

The five-year-old boy picks up the pieces and starts over.

It is a brisk, overcast, November morning in Hasiyah. At this time of the year, the mornings grow colder. The Gap of Homs, a flat passageway in the mountains between Syria and Lebanon, funnels the winds into a fervour and unleashes them on the city.

Abdullah says he can already feel the weather turning.

It is really cold. Yesterday, I was at school. It was very, very cold.”
"A miserable place"

In the seventeen-hundreds, English travel writer David Pockcocke described Hasiyah as “a miserable place”.  The looming winter will bring sub zero temperatures and knee-high snow to this industrial zone.

There’s no misery today. Abdullah’s twin brother, Elias, also has a brightly-coloured, plastic dragonfly. The boys make a show out of who can make theirs fly the highest - and, perhaps, crash to the ground hardest - until one of the propellers breaks on the gravel.

The twins are identical and even wear matching hooded tracksuits with fleece linings. Born minutes apart, they fight over who is oldest.

Abdullah has one wish for the cold months ahead, a warm, winter jacket. His brother already has one, he says. One jacket, between two boys.

Abdullah’s family live in one of many unfinished industrial buildings that litter the town.

The industrial city

Hasiyah is known colloquially as the “industrial city”. In ancient times, it served as a post station for military craftsmen and later became a fortified garrison during the Ottoman era.

In 2001, the Syrian Government began building a new city here, intended to be a catalyst for big industry, but many of the buildings are only half-constructed.

Ever since the conflict began seven years ago, the city’s walls have instead become a refuge for displaced families.

The twins’ home is barricaded behind a large, steel sliding gate, coated with rust, and too heavy for Abdullah to push open. He scampers over the frame and peers out from between the bars.

Along with their family, Abdullah and Elias fled here from Damascus years ago. The boys are too young to remember exactly when.

The city is currently host to 1,900 families - including 4,400 children - who have arrived from conflict-affected areas such as Homs, Raqqa and Aleppo.

Within Syria itself, it's estimated more than six million people are displaced by the conflict. Nearly 70 per cent of the entire population is living in acute poverty.

With nowhere else to go, these families have come to Hasiyah, more than doubling the population. They crowd into the endless sprawl of unsafe, unfinished buildings and erect makeshift shelters; they have no other choice.

And now as temperatures plummet, they risk losing their lives to the cold.

There are 1.3 million children all around Syria who need support to stay warm this winter.

UNICEF is working around the clock to deliver life-saving blankets and winter clothing for children before the worst weather hits. But to do that, we need your help. Please donate now.

Words and photos by Ethan Donnell. Ethan travelled to Syria at the end of 2017.