Refugees struggle in Turkish camps as Syrian conflict grows

Coty Giannelli

Editor’s note: Kent State photojournalism student Coty Giannelli is currently in Aleppo, Syria, and has agreed to share his content with the Summer Kent Stater.

A thin, dirty piece of cardboard and a blue tarp keep Mustafa and his family of two from feeling homeless. The makeshift tent barely offers enough room for the Syrian refugees to live. One corner is a pantry; the opposite corner, a dresser. Thousands of others who were forced from their homes in Syria also hung tarps between trees in a park in Kilis, Turkey.

“I don’t know if you can call these tents,” said Mustafa, who was an elementary school teacher in northern Syria before intense shelling forced him and his family from their home.

“In Syria, I have a big house,” he said. “Here, I lie in dirt.”

Outside the tents, a father warms the small amount of food his family has by fire, fueling the flames with whatever he can find, including plastic refuse.

Close to this settlement is a free clinic set up by the local Kilis province government, along with the help of the International Medical Corps, the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association, Light House and other Turkish non-profit organizations.

The Syrian doctors, who work for free, see about 500 patients a day. The clinic acts as outpatient-only since there are no resources for lab testing. If there is any need for emergency care, patients must go to a local hospital.

The Syrians in Kilis province traveled to Turkey with only what the families could carry, hoping to make temporary homes at the refugee camps set up by the Turkish government. However, the conflicts in Syria have forced more Syrians across the border than the Turkish government may be able to care for without the help from other governments or nonprofits.

A few fortunate refugees have been able to make homes in refugee camps that are spread all along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Abdullah and his family of six, who are just “happy to be alive,” were lucky enough to start a new life in an abandoned house in Kilis. Abdullah and his son, Ahmet, run what they call a “shop” on the side of the road. Their shop consists of an old metal rack, stocked with cigarettes and soda. From here, they sell what they can to make ends meet. But because of the difference in currencies, families who set up shops sometimes have to make trips back to Syria to purchase the wares that they sell.

As the situation in Syria is becoming increasingly more violent, people are forced to stay in the cities because of their lack of wealth, proper medical care, clean water and a reliable source of food. Many must dig through the garbage to find a meal.

While the death toll in Syria climbs toward 100,000, the Syrian government has allegedly used chemical weapons like sarin gas against its people, reportedly killing up to 150 people. In response, United States officials have pledged to provide “lethal” assistance to certain groups of rebels.

The United Nations, concerning chemical weapons, was not easily convinced.

“The validity of any information on the alleged use of chemical weapons cannot be ensured without convincing evidence of the chain-of-custody,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, while addressing members of the press at UN headquarters on June 14. “That is why I continue to emphasize the need for an investigation on the ground in Syria that can collect its own samples and establish the facts.”

As politicians argue the validity of claims and what actions to take next, the people in Syria are suffering.

“The constant flow of killings continues at shockingly high levels — with more than 5,000 killings documented every month since last July, including a total of just under 27,000 new killings since [Dec. 1],” said Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a news release.

Even if the rebels manage to topple the regime, it will not guarantee an end to the bloodshed.

One of the biggest obstacles for the anti-regime forces during and after the revolution will be themselves, said Mohammed Mustafa, a Syrian professor at Gaziantep University in Gaziantep, Turkey.

The anti-regime forces are made up of multiple groups: the now western-backed moderates, the Islamic fundamentalists and the al-Qaida loyalists. Among some of these groups are also the Kurdish people, who have been fighting to get their own country for years.

“[The people] want to live just a little bit of democracy,” said Ahmet Ozpay, a professor at Gaziantep University, who has published a book on Syria. “They want to go to sleep and wake to a free media in a free atmosphere.”