The one thing inhabitants of the Kilis camp on Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria don’t have is what they want most: A road home.
“You know you can return to your country tomorrow,” said a 15-year-old girl named Qamer. “It’s not up to us when we go home. We don’t know when we’ll ever go back.”
Qamer, like most of the people I spoke to, wouldn’t give her last name for fear that relatives in Syria would be targeted and killed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The 16- month conflict already has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
So a makeshift town of 10,500 men, women and children is rising on the flat, sun-baked fields at the foot of Syria’s hills. Children toss balls in the narrow roads. Men in ankle- length robes hunch in the shade of improvised awnings, smoking and pumping the latest refugees fleeing attacks by Assad’s regime for news that only gets worse. Beyond the 10-foot walls, gunfire echoes from the border about 109 yards (100 meters) away.
On the 2,051 metal shipping containers that serve as homes, people have scrawled the names of their towns and slogans such as, “We will return!” The only question anyone has for a visiting reporter is how the U.S. will help them get home.
Seven Camps - Kilis is one of seven camps dotted along Turkey’s 511-mile (822 kilometer) border with Syria, which together hold more than 27,000 people. It is easily the nicest refugee camp I’ve ever seen, a far cry from Asian or Palestinian camps that have calcified into makeshift cities or decomposed into haphazard slums. Even so, there’s no escaping the despair of so many scarred and suspended lives.
The conflict across the border between Assad’s Alawite- dominated regime and a largely Sunni Muslim uprising is ever- present, borne in by new arrivals, hourly newscasts, and peoples’ need to share their stories. I spent hours sitting in the 226-square foot (21-square meter), two-room shipping- container houses, cradling sugary cups of black tea and listening to people talk about their experiences.