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“This Is Not a Life”

Photograph by Paul Salopek
Trauma therapy: A refugee child's drawing of a life left behind in Syria. Kilis, Turkey.

  • October 3, 2014

by Paul Salopek

Refugee camp, Kilis, Turkey, 36°38'50" N, 37°05'03" E

The Syrians pass their days and nights in shipping containers arrayed in rows atop what used to be farm fields on the Turkish border.

It is a model refugee camp, Kilis.

There are schools. A modern supermarket offers government-funded debit cards to the camp residents. A refugee souk bustles with barbershops, teashops, a songbird shop. The living containers are clean and come equipped with televisions. And the pathways between them are paved. Humanitarian experts from many countries have trooped through Kilis. All are stunned, impressed—by the amenities, by the generosity of the Turks.

Yet more than three years after the first group of 252 exhausted refugees straggled across the frontier from Syria, Kilis has become a symbol of a problem, not a solution.

Mohammed Nasuh in the Kilis refugee camp, Turkey. His wife Amina weeps. Photograph by Paul Salopek

Mohammed Nasuh in the Kilis refugee camp. His wife Amina weeps. Photograph by Paul Salopek

Today, the camp is bursting at the seams. It shelters more than 14,000 people—a fraction of the estimated 1.3 million refugees who have sought sanctuary from war. Turkey has spent billions on housing and feeding its displaced neighbors. It thought the civil war against the dictator Assad would be short; that Syria would be repopulated by returnees eternally grateful to Turkey. But the war continues. The welcome wears thin. Anti-Syrian protests are bubbling in Turkish cities. And still the refugees come: During the past week, another 160,000 displaced people, this time ethnic Kurds scattered by Islamic militia, have come staggering across the frontier. With a new U.S.-led bombing campaign under way against the Islamists, this human torrent will not stop.

“We wait,” says Mohammed Nassuh, a Syrian ex-colonel living at the Kilis camp for a year with his family. “Eating. Sleeping. Watching time pass. I will do anything. I will work as a janitor. I will go anywhere. This is not a life.”

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The lucky ones: Children displaced by the civil war in Syria sing their national anthem in a refugee school operated by the Turkish government. After more than three years of fighting, the the cost of such facilities is no longer sustainable. Kilis camp, Turkey.

Videographer: Paul Salopek. Producer: Adam Jabari Jefferson

DMU Timestamp: October 04, 2014 02:10

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