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Kilis is a small town in southern Turkey, situated a few miles away from the border with Syria. Under normal circumstances the town would be just another sleepy border city. However, since the civil war in neighboring Syria started, Kilis has been inundated with Syrian nationals who first began filling the government run refugee camps there, and have subsequently began spilling into the city itself.

I spent some time there staying with two pediatricians who work at the local state hospital. Before doctors can practice in Turkey they must work for a year and half in a hospital in the south, a sort of hardship post. Many of the doctors I met at the hospital were working one of these posts. The Turkish government has had to increase the staff at the hospital to deal with the influx of patients from Syria, many of whom are badly injured, having come from Aleppo and surrounding areas where fighting is heavy.

When I arrived at the bus station there were whole families with large bags of possessions and muddy shoes, possibly having just crossed the border. I was picked up by one of the doctors and hadn’t been in the car for more than 5 minutes before he received a call that he was needed at the hospital immediately. I would get used to him receiving these emergency calls over the next few days, having to make a U-turn and accelerate to the hospital at a rapid pace. This first night it was for a Syrian baby born prematurely. The hospital in Kilis lacks the means to deal with serious cases and has to send some patients to the larger hospital in Gaziantep, about a 45-minute drive north. The pediatricians told me there are many cases of parents not wanting to leave to go with their children to Gaziantep, instead returning to Syria or to one of the camps, effectively abandoning them. “I don’t know what happens to them after they go to Gaziantep,” one doctor told me.

I heard stories about the hospital being filled with victims from Aleppo, lining the hallways, many critically wounded. The doctors save those that they can, but all they can do for some is comfort them until their inevitable demise. All of this is pretty much on display for anyone to witness. I was a bit shocked at the access one has being able to walk around the hospital. Patients were being wheeled openly through large waiting areas, family members wandered through the corridors of the hospital, Syrian rebel soldiers loitered around outside. One man showed me where he had been shot fighting, and removed his shoe to show where he had lost his big toe. The language barrier only further complicates matters, as many Turks don’t speak Arabic and Syrians don’t speak Turkish. You could see the confusion at work with people wandering around trying to find anyone who could answer questions for them, but with the hospital largely relying on a few volunteer translators, most simply have to wait. Continue reading ›

When I met Zayn Muhammed he was selling packets of tissues outside of a mosque, in the Şirinevler neighborhood in Istanbul. He took me to see the single room that he, his wife and five children currently live in. The family came to Istanbul from Syria in October, after their village northwest of Aleppo was bombed. There the family lived a middle class lifestyle, with Zayn owning a grocery store and selling olives from his orchard. When the family arrived in Istanbul, they moved into tents in Şirinevler park with other refugees from Syria who had nowhere else to go. When the weather turned cold and living conditions in the park became unsanitary, the Turkish government closed down the tent camp, sending many of the refugees to official government run camps, while others decided to take their chances living in urban centers in Turkey. Zayn and his family were offered an unused spare room by a Turkish family he had befriended in the neighborhood. He told me the Turkish people in the neighborhood have been kind to his family, in part because of his five young children, offering them some food, clothes and other supplies. The government is trying to find Zayn a job, but in the meantime he tries to sell his packets of tissues. His wife Nahida spoke of the difficult transition to life in Turkey, with basic amenities like water and electricity costing far more than the family was used to in Syria. Zayn is unsure of what will become of the family, and knows they can’t live in the small room together in the long term. Like other Syrians crossing the border into Turkey every day, Zayn and his family are in limbo unable to get citizenship in Turkey, and unable to return to the village that was once their home, where they lost everything.

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