Thousands Of Syrians Camped Out At Turkish Border

Some 10,000 Syrian refugees are camped out along the northern border with Turkey, hoping to cross the frontier. Close to 100,000 Syrians are already in camps on the Turkish side of the border, and now the local government wants the UN Security Council to establish a safe zone on the Syrian side. Deborah Amos talks to Audie Cornish.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

In Syria, more and more people are fleeing the conflict hoping to find refuge in neighboring states, especially Jordan and Turkey. The number of refugees has swelled dramatically over the past few week amid heavy fighting between government forces and rebels in Syria's largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.

Now, there are some 10,000 Syrians camped out just south of the border with Turkey, hoping to cross the frontier. But with refugee camps in Turkey already swamped, the government wants the U.N. Security Council to establish a safe zone for the refugees inside Syria.

NPR's Deborah Amos has been in northern Syria today and she joins us now from the Syria/Turkey border. Deborah, where exactly are you and describe the scene.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: I am on the Syrian side of the border and I'm sitting with a bunch of refugees. There's a family here. They've taken over an administrative building. This border post was taken over by the rebels a month ago, so the border is open. They've got their tea out. Their kids are here.

As I look up, they're all looking at me talking to you in Washington. It's a full moon, its pitch dark. They are going to spend the night here. There are people everywhere out here, some of strung up clothes lines, people have been here for a couple of weeks; babies, men sleeping. We talked to a woman who was about to give birth and nobody knew she was out here. There's nobody to deliver her baby, so we tried to get her up a little closer so someone could take care of her.

Turkish officials were here yesterday and said they could get everybody placed by September 5th. They are building camps as fast as they can for another 50,000 people. That's in addition to the almost 100,000 that's in Turkey now.

CORNISH: Now, tell us more about the people who are trying to enter Turkey. Where have they come from?

AMOS: These are mostly people from Aleppo Province and that's from the villages around that city. Aleppo is now the site of very fierce clashes between the rebels and the Syrian army. In the meantime, the Syrian air force has run these bombing raids on these villages and towns. We drove into Syria, into one of the villages along the border. It was a town of 70,000. Now only 10,000 people remain.

There was a bread line this afternoon. A Turkish charity is providing flour. Baby formula is almost impossible to find. They're shelling almost everyday, so what some people do is they simply drive to the border at about 8 P.M., and they sleep here. And then they go back in the morning because, in these villages, there's no way to know if you're going to be hit.

In the town of Azaz, about 10 days ago, the air force bombed at 3:00 in the afternoon and killed 60 people and wounded another 130.

CORNISH: What's the thinking here by the Syrian government and the Syrian air force bombing these towns and villages? I mean, is there fighting still going on there?

AMOS: There is not. Syrians we talked to say that this is punishment. These towns and villages in the north, the Free Syrian Army, the rebels, swept out the army over the past couple of months. So the idea, it appears, is to bring so much misery to these towns that the people will turn against the rebels. That doesn't seem likely. What's happening instead is the Syrians are heading to the border in overwhelming numbers.

CORNISH: So, how are Syrians managing there, living out in the open?

AMOS: It's pretty grim. They can either stay in their houses and wait for a bomb to drop on their heads or, you know, get in the car. We saw people getting on motorcycles, even on foot, and had to the border where your kids are safe. You know, for example, there is reports from a little village called Kafr Nabil. It's a tiny village in an olive grove southwest of Syria. It became famous for its humor. You know, every day they would write a joke and put it up on Facebook.

So, two days ago, the air force dropped a bomb in the town's square, killing more than a dozen people. It was a horrific scene, as described by those very same activists who were posting jokes. So this bombing campaign has accelerated in recent weeks. Syrian state media describes it as a campaign to wipe out the terrorists once and for all. And it has stepped up on the border.

CORNISH: NPR's Deborah Amos from the Syria/Turkey border, Deborah, thank you.

AMOS: Thank you.

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