Despite the intense interest in the camps set up in Turkey, coverage and actual footage has very rarely been made available. No press had ever entered the Altınözü Center Camp prior where Angelina Jolie visited. That is until SABAH writers Tuluhan Tekelioğlu, İbrahim Altay and Erkan Sevenler paid a visit to Altınözü as well as a number of other camps in Hatay to spend a day with Syrian refugees.
We are at the Syrian border. Almost 2,000 refugees have crossed the border over the past 48 hours, most of which were women, children and elderly. It is deemed certain that their numbers will increase as the days pass. Those who arrive are tired. They have relatives, work, careers and pasts they were forced to leave behind. Some were forced to flee carrying their children in their arms, some fled without any form of identification. They left a country which is burning its own cities and villages and killing its own people. And it is that nation's own government that is responsible.
The number of Syrians that have now sought shelter in Turkey has reached 15,000. When taking the situation in Syria into consideration, this figure is not that high. Had the Syrian military not held up the borders, there could have been tens of thousands of people crossing over at once. Seven camps have been set up since June. Four of those are in Yayladağ and two are in Altınözü, with one in Reyhanlı.
Certain press members have made it into a number of these camps and have even relayed footage. Sabah journalists Tuluhan Tekelioğlu, İbrahim Altay and Erkan Sevenler made their way into Altınözü as well as a number of other camps, where they spent time with refugees.
THEY CAN STAY AS LONG AS THEY WANT
What we heard was heart breaking, yet what we saw in the camps was heartwarming... First of all, there is a television in each tent. And satellite antennas everywhere! Refugees mainly watch Al Jazeera, Al Arabia and the Assad opposition channel Al Shaab. There is water, a laundry service and full medical services. The highest number of accidents takes place in the playgrounds, minor incidents that are tended to immediately by medics. All sorts of medical care and needs are provided for in the camps, where over the past ten months 222 babies have been born. The boys are being given the name Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the girls are being given the name Emine. The refugees are able to go back and forth between camps and participate in social activities such as classes on the Turkish traditional Ebru art style.
The international and Turkish press refers to these people as refugees and the camps they stay in as refugee camps. However, according to international law this description is incorrect. The Turkish state has granted refugees 'temporary protection'. This means that those who arrive to Turkey may be able to stay in these camps for as long as they want until the situation in their own country has been rectified. Turkey is in control and not the United Nation's Refugee Agency, yet even still a UNHCR group is still working on ensuring that all entries and exits from Hatay are done according to standard and that systematic records are kept. Those who cross the border are checked for identification by the gendarmerie and are then settled into camps. Eighty percent of those staying in camps are from Jisr ash-Shugur and 20 percent are from Latakia. All are Arab and all are Sunni.
OUR WOMEN SAVED US - Mustafa Abdülkerim (Driver)
"We were holding a peaceful demonstration for those who have been killed. They intervened and began shooting at us randomly. They set my car and my house on fire. Those who had the chance to run did, either to the mountains or to the valley. I was amongst those who went for the valley. We were 120 people. They surrounded us with tanks. Seven or eight of the young ones in the group went to speak with the military so there wouldn't be any conflict. They told them we were unarmed. All of a sudden they opened fire and most of them died right there. We think they used chemical weapons because they turned all white later. I and four others huddled into an animals' den. We were all wounded. Our women saved us. The women and children walked up to the military and acted like a shield. Five of them got hurt but the Syrian army stopped attacking us because of them. We left right after this incident. Some of our relatives have remained. They are not allowed to travel and they are currently imprisoned in their villages. We can't reach them by phone because all networks are down. Random fire continues and we are worried for the lives of those remaining."
This is a translation of an article originally written by Tuluhan Tekelioğlu and İbrahim Altay.
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