Welcome is wearing thin for Syrian refugees
“At least my family are safe, I thank God and Erdogan for that,” he said, “but life is very hard. They give us cards to shop in the camp, but we have no cash and no means of making any.” When his eight-year-old daughter fell sick the previous week, Mazin found himself in a desperate situation. The camp hospital could not diagnose her condition, as it was not equipped to give her the necessary blood tests.
For that he needed to head to the general hospital in Kilis town. “But without money I couldn’t pay for a taxi. It was late at night and I stood on the side of the road with my sick child for three hours until finally a driver accepted a reduced fare. So I gave him my very last six Turkish lira, but what will I do next time? Now I truly have nothing left,” he said.
For the latest arrivals, a fleet of minibuses was on hand to ferry them to other less well equipped sites such as the camp in neighbouring Urfa, where residents have to make do with tents pitched in a desert and utilities such as water are communal and in shorter supply.
Thousands more refugees have been left on the Syrian side, camped out without running water or sanitation. Children with muddy faces play amidst open fires topped by cooking pots and pans, as the Turkish authorities scramble to establish new facilities to receive them. “Because of the unhygienic conditions and the large number of children we’re seeing a lot of viruses passed around,” said Doctor Muaaid Abu Samih from the nearby Free Syrian Army Medical Centre.
Some of those stranded have chosen to cross the border illegally by traversing a minefield which separates the two countries. Large gaps in the barbed wire fences on either side allow refugees to cross over and Free Syrian Army recruits to cross back and join the fight against Assad’s forces. The Turkish military patrols this area but appears to do little to stop the flow in either direction. Those who cross over illegally cannot gain entrance to the camps so rent local accommodation if they can afford it. The rest sleep rough in the town square; a situation the locals feel is untenable.
Two months ago these tensions exploded in Kilis’s central bazaar as angry refugees traded blows with stallholders over the price of goods. And with some Turkish politicians alleging that Damascus has retaliated against Turkey’s open arms policy towards the refugees by providing support for Kurdish separatist group the PKK, the townsfolk of Kilis are worried their security is also in jeopardy. A recent car bomb in the provincial capital, Gazantiep, killed 8 people leading to fears that Kilis could be next in line.
“The refugees have brought a lot of problems,” explained Hireyin Kilimci who runs a pastry shop in the town centre with his two sons. “The hospital is full of Arabs so we have to wait a long time for treatment and house rents are going up. There are people sleeping in the square, but where will they go when winter comes?
“We’ve seen a rise in robberies and prostitution, and that’s the government’s fault. Because the police always protect the Arabs we can’t do anything about it. We’ve had the Kurdish problem for decades, will it be the Arab problem next?”