The Syrians Keep Fleeing, But Now They Hit Turkey's Closed Border : Parallels Recent fighting in northern Syria has been pushing more and more civilians to seek shelter elsewhere. But neighboring Turkey, already burdened with 2.6 million refugees, has locked down its border.

The Syrians Keep Fleeing, But Now They Hit Turkey's Closed Border

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Guns have mostly gone silent across western and northern Syria following an agreement by dozens of fighting groups to cease hostilities. Several skirmishes have been reported, but the fragile truce that went into effect Friday at midnight appears to be holding, but the human suffering continues. Syria and its ally Russia bombed large areas in an effort to take new ground before the cease-fire went into effect. This led to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing for the relative safety of Turkey. But NPR's Alice Fordham says many couldn't get in when Turkey suddenly shut its borders.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: A running race tears across a schoolyard in a Turkish-run refugee camp near the Syrian border in Turkey. An administrator gives us a tour.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Now are going to the high school building.

FORDHAM: So this camp is laid out in wide, clean, gray avenues of white containers. There's washing hanging out, kids running around, it's clean and tidy. And it all feels quite permanent here.

There's lots of activities, but in a beauty salon full of would-be hairdressers, the talk is all about the people trying to get to where we are. One young woman, Nour Mohammad, tells us her loved ones are on the run north of the city of Aleppo.

NOUR MOHAMMAD: (Through interpreter) The most important thing is my brothers and my relatives are all there.

FORDHAM: She says some of her relatives are civilians who want to get into Turkey but have been stopped at the border by Turkish authorities, and she's so worried about them.

MOHAMMAD: (Through interpreter) My oldest brother's 18 and then the others are 15 and 14.

FORDHAM: They're with the rebellion and stayed to defend their town, but it's so dangerous now even they would leave if the crossing was still open. But in recent weeks, controls have been much tighter. At the clinic in this camp, it's a little overcrowded, but people do have access to treatment. Over on the Syrian side of the border, hospitals have been hit by airstrikes. Aid routes have been blocked. A woman named Sultan, too afraid to give her last name, says her village was besieged and then taken over by regime loyalists.

SULTAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: She too has relatives who tried to cross the border but were stopped. She says they're stuck just on the other side and the conditions are terrible. Camps set up there have swelled. They're short of toilets and tents and it's been rainy. In the nearby town of Kilis, I meet a Syrian aid worker named Asaad Ahmed who was in Syria lately.

ASAAD AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: In the border town of Azaz, he says, there were nearly 50,000 families not even getting bread.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: And the new tents are flimsy so they're damaged in the rain and wind. Like some international rights groups, Ahmed thinks Turkey should at least let vulnerable civilians in. But Turkey has already taken in nearly three million Syrian refugees, and when I visit the governor of this border province of Kilis, Suleyman Tapsiz, he points out he's also been under pressure from the U.S. to tighten the border and stop jihadists getting into Syria.

SULEYMAN TAPSIZ: (Through interpreter) Please, protect your borders USA said to us, but it right now - right now we are protecting our borders very strictly. That is the case.

FORDHAM: The governor says people with the right paperwork and the wounded are still allowed to cross. And he says Turkey should be allowed to use tough measures - the U.S. does. He even visited the U.S.-Mexico border and shows me his report about the border controls there.

TAPSIZ: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: So this is a photo of a checkpoint on the highway.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, as you see...

TAPSIZ: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Oh, yeah, with a K-9 search and everything.

Tough measures don't stop people trying to get in, but they do raise the price. I meet one Syrian refugee, Rana Hammoud, who tells me some relatives managed to get to Turkey earlier this month.

RANA HAMMOUD: (Through interpreter) They all came by smuggling.

FORDHAM: It cost the destitute family $1,300 to get each family member across. How could they afford it?

HAMMOUD: (Through interpreter) They're selling their land in Syria.

FORDHAM: A desperate measure for a farming family, but she tells me now even the smuggling route isn't working anymore. She can't get other relatives out. They're stuck at the mercy of powers far beyond their control. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Kilis, southern Turkey.

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