Syrians Inundate Turkey, Bearing Tales of Sorrow and Islamic State Horror

By Soguel, Dominique | The Christian Science Monitor, September 24, 2014 | Go to article overview

Syrians Inundate Turkey, Bearing Tales of Sorrow and Islamic State Horror


Soguel, Dominique, The Christian Science Monitor


Going against the flow of recent days, Zaim Mahmoud drags his three children in the direction of bombings and clashes. For this family, one of tens of thousands to flee an Islamic State offensive against Kurdish areas in Syria, help did not come fast enough.

The lines of sorrow run deep on his sun-beaten face. Mr. Mahmoud, who is 70, became a widow less than a fortnight ago. His sons Mohammed, Mahmoud, and Hazim, shuffle next to him, their gaze pinned on the pavement, still coming to terms with a childhood cut short by war and loss.

"I have nowhere to go, no one to help, and no money to feed my children. Our fate is in God's hands now," he says, still mourning his wife, who died of natural causes. He cannot go back to his hamlet of Khosli Wastani because it is under IS control, he says, so he will go to the besieged Kurdish border town of Kobane instead.

Beyond his field of vision, just a few miles away, large white tents rise up against a fleeting dust storm. Still empty, the nascent refugee camp comes in response to the worst humanitarian crisis that Turkey has faced since the start of the conflict in Syria more than three years ago.

"This number of people in such a short period of time is the highest we have seen" in Turkey, says Selin Unal, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, in an interview held next to one of two open crossing points.

Turkey's uneven burdenMore than 140,000 people fled Syria in the past few days. In a poignant reminder of the uneven burden Turkey shoulders as a result of the war next door, that number matches Europe's total refugee intake since April 2011. Before this influx, Turkey already counted 1.5 million refugees, a tally that includes unregistered individuals.

The Turkish government, assisted by international and local aid agencies, is racing against the clock to provide for this rapidly swelling population. Its border policy is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, the lives of many depend on ease of entry. On the other, the government is under huge pressure to tighten its border to stymie IS.

Those dueling needs are rapidly transforming the landscape around the border town of Suruc, a short walk from Kobane. Earth mounds to conceal tanks rise along the border as temporary shelters are built. Convoys of military vehicles skirt the perimeter, raising clouds of dust that blanket dazed refugees.

Not every one in need gets through. Some have been turned back. Scores of Turkish Kurds have headed to Suruc, most with the intent of providing help to refugees, some wanting to cross into Syria to fight, and others hoping to pressure the authorities to do more. …

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