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Syrian Refugees Burden Neighboring Turkey


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The number of Syrians fleeing their country is rising dramatically. You may recall the Syrian army is continuing a relentless offensive against the city of Aleppo and surrounding villages. And as that happens, people flee, creating an exodus that is straining neighboring countries, especially Turkey, where about 70,000 displaced have arrived. About 40 percent of them have arrived in the past month. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from the Turkish border that the spike in refugees is challenging Turkey's ability to cope.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: There is a refugee crisis in Turkey, but you have to cross the border into Syria to see it. The dividing line between these two countries is open. Turkish officials stamp passports at the crossing, a short walk to the Syrian side.

And it's not government officials in charge. They are gone. The Free Syrian Army is in control now. The rebel's revolutionary flag flies next to the Turkish flag on this border. Further on - at the Syrian border post - hundreds of displaced families are camped out on dusty concrete, waiting to enter turkey. And more arrive every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: They pack in a hurry. Um Ibrahim and her family left at dawn from Tel Rifaat, a small town near Aleppo.

UM IBRAHIM: (Through translator) There was shelling. There were rockets and military jets, so we left.

AMOS: Bundles of clothes and food are spread out on a blanket.

IBRAHIM: (Through translator) We're 11 people - nine kids and my husband and I.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: They have arrived on a Muslim holiday - the final day of the month-long fast for Ramadan. Mohammed Adeeb, with a rebel brigade from the town of Azaz, arranged to bring food here, and the rebels serve the meal at sunset. It's been 16 hours without food or water during the holy month.

MOHAMMED ADEEB: (Through translator) This Ramadan has been particularly difficult because of all the shelling and the massacres and the atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad, so it has been a difficult month.

AMOS: There are more difficulties ahead. The refugee camps in Turkey are now so overcrowded, the wait here can last for days.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: A rebel commander calls out names for the short bus trip to the border. Passengers squeeze in with small suitcases and sleeping babies, hoping there's a place in one of Turkey's refugee camps.

DR. MADJ YOUSIF: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: At the Turkish border, Dr. Madj Yousif, a Syrian-born doctor from Holland, meets the new arrivals. He's been working with Turkish authorities for months, but the numbers fleeing the country has grown so dramatically in the past few weeks, he says he's overwhelmed.

YOUSIF: From five days ago till now we have almost 8,500 people. We haven't slept - five, six days.

AMOS: As the camps have filled up, Turkish officials house displaced Syrians in hotels and college dorm rooms, but it's still not enough, says Dr. Yousif.

YOUSIF: Turkish people want to help and they don't want to say no. But every day we have more than one thousand - one thousand - or 15 hundred people going to Turkey - comes back 500, 600, because they have no place to sleep. And here we have problem, you see.

AMOS: And it's a problem that will go on as Syrians flee to escape the fighting between government forces and anti-regime rebels. They are frightened and exhausted. They include the elderly and the newborn. On Sunday, Turkish officials crossed into Syria, distributing baby food, sleeping bags and water to the Syrians waiting to cross.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Antakya, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.