Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS)

Reaching the Syrians trapped on ‘the other side’

Reaching
the Syrians trapped on ‘the other side’

By Neil Sammonds, Amnesty International’s Syria researcher.

Having been continually frustrated in my attempts to meet
displaced Syrians on both sides of the border with Turkey, I decided the only
way to find out about their situation was to somehow reach them myself.

Along with the 8,500 refugees staying in camps on the
Turkish side, to whom access is forbidden for Amnesty International, I was told
there are thousands of Syrians camped just beyond the border living in
desperate conditions. This is where I would attempt to go.

I’ve seen countless Syrian men and boys scrambling down to
“the other side” of the border from my position in Guvecci village, Turkey.
This time, I follow them.

I loop an imposing Turkish security outpost a few hundred
metres south of Guvecci and pursue, at a distance, some Syrian teenagers.

This involves climbing a hill, crossing a couple of fields
and dashing through bushes and woods, including a couple of sprints that would
have been in clear view of anyone manning the outpost. Then, it’s all downhill.

It’s all Turkish territory and there are no signs to show I
am doing anything wrong, so I keep going until I come to a road crossing my
path.

The sprightly lads ahead jog along the road to a small break
in the bushes on the other side. A rusty gate lies on the floor. I follow,
stand beside the gate and survey the scene along the border.

Scores of tents are scattered along the edges of farmland
and woods. They stretch a mile or so further south; it’s said they continue for
miles further north in a ribbon of land hugging the border.

There are vehicles, motorcycles and huddles of people
sitting under and around fruit trees. One woman is sitting on the earth,
slumped forward with her head in her hands.

They are grateful to the Turks across the border, who have
been smuggling them much-needed supplies.

“We would all have died of hunger if it wasn’t for the
people of Guvecci,” says Abu Ahmed, pointing to his family’s makeshift tent
metres from the border. It’s obvious that there are no facilities anywhere: no
water, electricity, toilet.

“The Turkish people send down bread and medicine. And the
owner of this field is a good man who lets us stay,” says Abu Ahmed.

He introduces me to Abu Muhammad and Abu ‘Abdu – for
security reasons all prefer not to give their full names. They are agricultural
workers in their twenties from villages near the town of Jisr al-Shughur.

They, along with others who then approach me, repeat many of
the stories I have heard in the past few days.

They tell me the water supply has been poisoned. And that
the body of Basel al-Masri, a shopkeeper and enthusiastic participator in
peaceful protests in Jisr al-Shughur, was returned with three lethal bullets in
it. Snipers from the security forces fired at those returning from his funeral.

The camp-dwellers also say that that army tanks, based on
the edge of Jisr al-Shughur, had shelled houses, while livestock was killed and
crops burnt.

Another group of people tell me that 100 people from the
village of Freykah were taken away four days ago to a detention centre. No one
has seen them since.

Women from the more distant town of Ma’aret al-Nu’man, two
holding babies, tell me of men who have disappeared. Another woman tells me
about a young man called Isma’il, who was shot in the back and head during a
protest in her village. Around 20 people from Jisr al-Shughur told me they had
heard about the sexual abuse of several girls by members of the security forces
or Shabiha (regime-backed militiamen), but didn’t want to mention the names of
the families concerned.

Suddenly, there is a commotion and people talk quickly among
themselves. The Turkish officer considered the strictest has started his shift.
I should go. I scamper across the road, up and around the hillside and puff and
sweat my way back to Guvecci.