On Turkish-Syrian border, villagers and refugees remain anxious
As the conflict in neighbouring Syria reaches its 17th month, Turks living near the border are fearful of the future.
By Emiko Jozuka for SES Türkiye in Hatay -- 14/08/12
The sounds of gunfire are common in the border village of Bukulmez, located on the border with Syria in Hatay province. Women in the village lock their doors at night out of fear for their safety and that of their children as the conflict in neighbouring Syria reaches its 17th month.
The Turkish village of Bulkulmez lies among orchards and farmland looking out over the Syrian border. [Emiko Jozuka/SES Türkiye]
"On some nights, minibuses full of escaping Syrians pass through our village. Sometimes they cross the border illegally and walk through our village on foot. We don't know whether these people are fleeing from the violence or fighters of the regime. We're afraid that they might do something to us," said Sara S., a woman from the village who would not give her last name to SES Türkiye because she fears for her safety.
Some villagers talk about relocating to another province should the Syria crisis worsen. Others, like Ayse F., a student, say they're slowly becoming used to the changes in their village since refugees began to arrive.
Ayse, who also would not give her last name, spoke of viewing images of civilian casualties on television and empathised with the plight of the refugees and victims fleeing the unrest, but questioned the intent of those who return to Syria.
"I feel so sorry for all the victims of the Syrian conflict. There's a constant flow of refugees that pass in minibuses through our village – it makes us think that the situation must be terrible in Syria. But there are also some refugees who come, then go back. When I see them go back, I don't know what to believe anymore. Their actions make it look like there isn't a problem in Syria," Ayse said.
Refugees such as Arwa, a Syrian woman who is taking refuge with her three young children at the Yayladag camp in Hatay, said they are grateful for the Turkish government's support and say that Syrians there are lucky in comparison to those who have fled to Lebanon and Jordan.
But the proximity of the camps to the Syrian border and the sound of fighting leave the women with a lingering fear.
"We fear that the [regime forces] might come to kill us any minute. All the anti-regime fighters have family living in the camps. People inside the camps are sad. So many people have died," said Arwa, whose husband remained in Syria to fight.
Since the start of the conflict, Turkey has provided for an estimated 50,000 refugees from Syria in eight tent and container cities along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkish government Disaster and Emergency Administration (AFAD) assures that it's providing for "all the needs" of the refugees.
"We're providing services such as shelter, food, health, social activities, education, communication and other services. The camps have been established with allocation provided by our Prime Ministry, including mosques, centers of commerce, schools, transformers, generators, etc," Nazmiye Cira, spokeswoman of AFAD, told SES Türkiye.
"All the aid is being provided directly by the [Turkish] government based on its aid and donations that are being sent by local and international aid groups," Cira added.
Meanwhile, at least $500 million in aid is required to meet the needs of the Syrian people, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation announced on July 31st.
The spillover from the conflict in Syria has created 150,000 refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, according to the UN refugee agency. The number is expected to rise significantly.
Last week over 5,000 refugees entered Turkey, according to AFAD. The Turkish government is planning to build five new camps in the next few weeks to accommodate an additional 50,000 refugees, bringing total capacity to 100,000.
Correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu contributed to this report.