Syrian Refugees In Turkey Call For International Help

Oct 12, 2011

As political unrest and a government crackdown in Syria continue to simmer, more than 7,500 Syrian refugees have fled to camps in southeastern Turkey, and Syrians say many more would come if they could get past the Syrian army.

One of these camps, Altinozu, lies deep in the farm fields of Turkey's Hatay province. It appears to be well-planned and well-run, right down to the asphalt laid between the rows of white tents.

On a late summer day, the pavement is brutally hot. But when the winter rains come, it will keep the camp from turning into a muddy swamp. Such planning is considered necessary, because the Syrian uprising is already eight-months-old with no sign of resolution.

Turkey, which has tightly restricted media access to the camps, says there are 1,300 people at Altinozu, with more than 6,000 others in six additional camps scattered around the countryside.

Anger At Inaction

All the Syrians who spoke for this story used partial or false names to protect against possible retaliation. Refugee Abdel Razzaq says he lost four family members when the Syrian army attacked his town, Jisr al-Shughour. When asked what Syrians need now, he said international help.

"God willing there will be protection. We need help from the foreigners, from the Arabs, we need a no-fly zone because the regime is using its planes and helicopters to destroy us. Where is the help?" he says.

Outside another tent, Ferdana, a tall woman from Latakia, sits next to a relative smoking tobacco from a water pipe. She says many other families are hiding in the mountains of northern Syria, hoping for a chance to cross. She taps a reporter on the shoulder and asks if she will be heard in America.

"We are begging you to just stop this regime of Bashar al-Assad. He is killing us, the people are forced to hide or go to another country. He doesn't understand anything but killing. We don't want to be refugees, we want to go home. So please, just stop him," she says.

A row of men with push brooms sweep the street in another corner of the camp, where a mock graveyard has been built to ridicule what the refugees feel is a moribund international stance toward Syria.

A grave has been dug for "Russia and China," to mark their veto of the latest U.N. Security Council resolution. That resolution threatened sanctions against Syria if it didn't immediately halt its military crackdown against civilians. There is also a nearby headstone intended to denote the political demise of the Arab League.

Far-Off Dreams Of Returning Home

Ghazwan, a Syrian lawyer in the camp, is well aware that the international support for the anti-government rebels in Libya followed strong action by the Arab League, the U.N. and others.

"We don't put our hopes in the Arab leaders. They acted against Gadhafi because he's not normal, they don't like him anyway. And we can't ignore that the international community wanted to intervene in Libya because it has valuable oil resources. We don't have that, so they don't help us," he says.

In a broiling classroom tent lined with computers, a student who gives her name as Amal recounts how two of her brothers were killed and another arrested before she fled to Turkey. Amal says she wants to go to university in Damascus to study law and international relations. At the moment, though, she finds herself writing poems.

"The pretty birds migrate from place to place," she recites, "searching for food and a safe shore. And so have we become, flying from our lovely land to Turkey. I dream every day of coming home, to kiss the sand, and feel the flag brush across my face."

Right now, that day seems far off. Just down the road, another camp has been built, waiting for the next wave of refugees.

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