Refugees live in crowded camp with little food, water or sanitation

Some 10,000 people live in limbo in the Bab al-Salam transit camp, waiting to cross into Turkey

A Syrian girl looks through the window of a bus at Bab al-Salam transit camp on the Syria-Turkey border, which is home to 10,000 people. Photograph: Bruno Gallardo/AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian girl looks through the window of a bus at Bab al-Salam transit camp on the Syria-Turkey border, which is home to 10,000 people. Photograph: Bruno Gallardo/AFP/Getty Images

Fri, May 31, 2013, 01:10

“I like their sweet sound, it makes me happy,” 50-year-old Nasar Ali muses as he tends the four bird cages he brought all the way from his home in the besieged city of Aleppo.

Each chirping canary has its own cage with brightly framed mirrors and perches, while Ali and his family of seven now call a single tent home in the transit camp on the Bab al-Salam border, having fled the constant threat of shelling and aerial bombardment by Assad’s jets.

Beneath the concrete roof of a former customs check, rows upon rows of tents stretch into the gloom, home to over 200 families. The narrow pathways where those without tents are forced to sleep are overhung with laundry lines and wires. Outside in the unforgiving sun, women wait for water to be trucked in.

“We are forced to be here in the camp, we have nowhere else to go,” stresses Ali’s wife Fatmeh, saying there is rarely enough water and the conditions of the toilets make them unusable.


No passports
Like the majority of families in the camp, Ali’s family do not have passports and are waiting to be registered by the Turkish government so they can cross the border.

With over 4.5 million people internally displaced inside Syria and access for international relief agencies restricted, the pressure is increasing on neighbouring countries which already host more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

The Bab al-Salam transit camp is home to 10,000 people. A patch of wasteland under the shadow of the border gate welcomes you to “Free Syria”.

The press office at the Syrian border gate claims that one month ago the Turkish government promised to register 5,000 families, but until now there has been no progress.

Turkey has maintained a generous open-door policy, hosting over 400,000 Syrian refugees, as well as an estimated 100,000 unregistered Syrians. Relief agencies fear the number of refugees could exceed one million in the coming months.

At the entrance to the camp, morning classes are taking place in three large tents which serve as schools. Waste water streams along the dirt pathways lined with makeshift shops and barbers’ tents.

Faraz al-Lali, a father of nine, sells sweets under a tarpaulin to children in the camp. There is no other work and the price of living has skyrocketed; he says bread can sometimes cost up to 50 Turkish lira (€20).

Thirteen year-old Yousef, his ginger hair pressed down under a baseball cap, helps distribute the bread rations provided by relief agencies. He says he is good at school and wants to become a doctor.


Fighting father
His father, a fighter with the extremist opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra, visits him for two hours every week before returning to fight. “I ask God to help my father be victorious,” says Yousef, eager to return home.

On the outskirts of the camp, newly arrived families shelter in hastily erected United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tents, among ditches filled with rubbish and putrid water.

White sheets propped up precariously by poles make the only latrine in sight.

His skin marked with sores from leishmaniasis, a disease spreading in the camp, Mahmoud (13) speaks of his grandmother who died a week ago from a heart attack after shock waves from a scud missile shook the camp.

“We have recorded our names with the Turkish government and we are waiting, but I want to return to Aleppo,” he admits, saying life in the transit camp is worse.

On a floormat in the dirt, Awaysha (50), who has no legs due to a birth defect, sits in the midday sun. In Aleppo the sound of shelling terrified her – she was unable to move or escape the house without someone carrying her. Her 18-year-old nephew Muntaser, who is mentally disabled, rests in the tent shared by 10 relatives, also unable to move about without assistance.

“We had a promise from the government last month but til now, nothing.

“We’re waiting for permission,” she says, hoping conditions will be better in Turkey and maybe she will get a wheelchair. She can only wait.