With the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Burkan al-Furat forces of the Free Syrian Army fighting together against the Islamic State’s forces, clashes around the city of Tal Abyad at the Syrian-Turkish border have escalated. The conflict has forced tens of thousands of people to flee to the city of Akcakale on the Turkish side of the border. The Turkish authorities opened the border for displaced Syrians for a few hours on two occasions: on June 3, 2015 for the first time, then again 11 days later on June 14. According to the official Turkish figures, approximately 25,000 Syrians entered the country on those two days, and most were women and children.
Many Syrians have been stuck at the borders for almost two weeks now and are suffering due to the scarcity of food and water. Nadir, a 29-year-old man from the village of Ain Issa was able to enter Turkey because his son is disabled. Turkey gave priority to families with children and to sick and injured people. “We waited at the borders for 14 days, and if it were not for my son, we would not have been able to enter the country.” For the last three days, Nadir and his family have been spending their nights in a mosque in Akcakale waiting to be transferred to one of the local camps. “They said that they would transfer us soon. They have provided us with all that we need, but I am still anxious and can’t sleep at night. My sister and her family are stuck at the border. We know nothing about them and fighting is getting closer and closer to them.”
Nadir fled with tens of other families after the YPG surrounded the village. “The bombing was very intense. I was scared that a blockade might be established, or that the YPG might kick us out or might accuse us of supporting the Islamic State. I read many news reports that documented systematic ethnic cleansing campaigns against Arabs in the areas now controlled by the YPG.” All that Nadir could take with him when he left his village was a little bit of food and water, and some official documents. “My son is disabled and I hope that I can find a good doctor here in Turkey.” His kids still can’t sleep at night. “Every time they hear a missile, they jump out of bed. Hopefully they’ll be better when we move to the camp.” Nadir still does not know which camp he’ll be transferred to.
The Turkish border patrol fired water cannons into the crowds on the other side of the border. “We can’t let them in and they keep attempting to enter Turkey illegally. They were angry and they threw rocks at us. We have to keep them away from the Turkish border until we receive orders from Ankara,” a Turkish officer explained.
Ahmad is a 24-year-old who entered Turkey with his wife and their young child on June 14, 2015. He used to work as an accountant at a pharmacy in the village of Slouk, close to Tal Abyad. Ahmad and tens of other families had to flee after their houses were bombed. He told us that more than 10,000 people entered Turkey on the same day he did, and that hundreds of families are still stuck in their villages, unable to reach the borders. “We made it to the border because I had my wife and son ride with me on my motorcycle. We waited at the border for six days. I’d never felt such humiliation in my whole life. The Turkish patrol threw food to us like we were homeless dogs. I will not live in a camp. I have relatives in the city of Konya and I will take my family there. Regarding the rest of those who came in with us, they will all be moved to a camp soon.”
Manal, Ahmad’s wife, does not share the same opinion of the Turkish border patrol. “They were very nice. They carried our son, Khalid, when we crossed the border and one of them was playing with him as if he were his own son. It is true that they threw the food to us, but they had no other way to help, because we were on the other side of the border,” she says.
Ahmad believes that the Islamic State will not give up. “I don’t think we will go back home soon. The Islamic State will try to take control of the area again and I don’t know whether I will see my house again. Tears welled up in Ahmad’s eyes when he told us about his house. “I didn’t get to enjoy owning a house. I was still paying back the money that I borrowed to build that house.”
Manal explains to us, “Although the house was not completely destroyed, Ahmad believes that we won’t see it again. He believes that either the Islamic State will confiscate the house as a punishment for leaving it, or that it will be bombed and completely destroyed.” Manal tries to cheer Ahmad up by promising him that they will buy a new house in a free Syria – free from the regime and free from the Islamic State.