A surge of terrified civilians one day, now none. Mine fields along a border will do that.
The Syrian civil war has cut off the towns of Jarabulus and Karkamis from each other.
The first, in Syria, has been in the hands of the radical Islamic State movement since hard fighting with the YPG Kurdish militia.
The other is barely 500 metres away, in neighbouring Turkey.
Turkey shares 950 km of border with Syria, but it does not follow any natural barrier, such as river or mountain. It is a line on the map, drawn after the First World War.
From trade and smuggling, which became part of normal life after a century, the families of Jarabulus and Karkamis have enduring links with each other.
When things in Syria went badly wrong, Ali Yilmaz’s family in Karkamis, living right next to the border, took in dozens of refugees.
Yilmaz told us: “We are directly affected by the events in Syria. Those who flee are human beings. They are just like we are. They escape from the cruelty of the regime with their children. They are afraid of soldiers at the border. When they go over the barbed wire their clothes are torn. They lose their shoes.”
The sound of gunfire and explosions carries easily to the Yilmaz house. It is less frequent at the moment, but two weeks ago the windows were shattered.
Yilmaz said: “For the last two years we have had Islamic State for neighbours. They mined the field next to us. Since then, people stopped coming this way. They are afraid — sometimes roaming dogs set off mines, so now it is rare. We used to get 300-500 people coming over every day, even a thousand.”
Everyone in the family feels the same: fear, as if they were living on the Syrian side of the border.
Yilmaz’s elderly mother said: “It is very hard. Many people came here. Our houses were full of people. Then, after Islamic State mined the area, they stopped coming. When mines explode we are afraid. My grandchildren are terrified.
“We let them stay with us. When they had no shoes, no clothes, we gave them ours. We helped a lot.”
Our correspondent Bora Bayraktar summed up: “Life at the no-man’s-land of the Turkish-Syrian border is not easy. The number of people entering Turkey has decreased but they haven’t stopped. The gunfire and bombings near Jarabulus continue. The threat and the worry remain.”
Why are Syrians fleeing to Europe? And how? Why not stay in Turkey? We talked to two people with intimate knowledge about this.
The first was Ahmed Al Cabir, a former Free Syrian Army field commander who fled to Turkey from Jarabulus as the Islamic State/Daesh movement advanced.
Cabir said: “People fled both because of the civil war in Syria and Daesh — because of Bashar Assad’s regime and his barrel bombs, his war against the Syrian people and its children; it was not because of the rebels.
“The people who are going to Europe are deluding themselves thinking that life is beautiful there, whereas the most suitable place for these refugees is Turkey, and not Europe. The best country — that has embraced them — really is Turkey. It has provided everything: food, medicines, hospitals. The Turkish people have taken care of the Syrian people. We hope that those who have left are going to come back to Turkey.”
We asked Mahdi Davud, the head of the Syrian Nour Association, providing medical assistance and social meeting points for Syrians, why try to reach Europe only now?
Davud said: “This flow of refugees began four years ago. Many people tried to come to Turkey or go to Europe in groups. Towards Europe recently this has accelerated because people are desperate. They lost hope because the international powers showed no sign of ending this war. That is why many people thought that the brightest light for them is Europe. It is also that recently going to Greece has become cheaper. The price to get to Greece used to be 10 or 12 thousand euros; now it is around a thousand. Even without much money, people can cross to the other side.
“The routes are determined by smugglers. People traffickers are lengthening the roads to get more money out of the refugees, especially those coming from Syria, as they don’t know the country. For example, a group that wants to go to Bodrum or Antalya after entering Turkey — from Antakya (in Syria) traffickers take them north[west] to Istanbul and afterwards take them south to Bodrum or Antalya. They do that to persuade the refugees they are making a great effort, to inflate what they charge them.”
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