A precarious life beyond Syria

A precarious life beyond Syria


Turkey began building refugee camps near its border with Syria in mid-2011, little knowing that the country’s brutal conflict would last so long and bring so many people, many of them women and children, across its frontier.

More than 220,000 Syrians are now living in Turkish camps, but around three times that number struggle to exist outside them. Some try and eke out an existence around southeast Turkey, the country's poorest region.

. KILIS, Turkey. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Turned away three times since fleeing the bombardment of Syria's second city Aleppo in January, mother of eight Faten Darwish (pictured above, right) has given up on getting her family into a refugee camp.

Instead, the 33-year old lives with her husband and children in a dingy storage space made of breeze blocks with thin dirty mattresses lining the floor and just a single tap to wash from. Some of her young children shower at communal baths, she said.

"We lost our house in the barrel bombings in a village near Aleppo. My husband got injured and now he roams the streets like a crazy man," said Faten, struggling to make her miserable surroundings hospitable.

. Nizip, Turkey. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

The refugee crisis is only getting more critical. The battle for Aleppo - just 50 km (30 miles) from the Turkish border - ebbs and flows but the Syrian military ramped up its offensive in December, pummelling civilian areas.

In six weeks, they killed more than 700 people, mostly civilians, and forced tens of thousands more from their homes. Many of them have joined the hundreds of thousands who have fled Syria since the civil war started three years ago.

The number of officially registered Syrian refugees has hit 900,000 and no matter how quickly Turkey builds new camps it can never keep up with demand. It now has 22 camps in 10 provinces, including the camp in Nizip pictured above.

. NIZIP, Turkey. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) has said some spaces are still available in its camps, adding: "New camps will be built if deemed necessary."

But AFAD conceded the squeeze had worsened since the Aleppo bombing increased, swelling camp numbers by 8,000 since January 12.

. NIZIP, Turkey. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Those refugees taken in by the Nizip camp, 30 minutes outside Turkey's southern city of Gaziantep, have access to hospitals, supermarkets and furnished classrooms.

But for all the attractiveness of such facilities, Syrian refugees in Turkey often choose the harsher conditions outside over the restrictions imposed on them by the camps, where they have to adhere to a curfew and are not allowed to work.

. KILIS, Turkey. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Whether it is because they have been turned away from the refugee camps or because they prefer to live free from their rules, there are now large numbers of Syrians living in makeshift conditions, carving out a vulnerable existence.