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Syrian refugees, life on hold


Bram Goots

Syrians, under threat from their own government, unwilling to submit but unsafe at home, are fleeing, more than ten thousand have traversed the border into Turkey since June last year and many more followed in recent months. The Turkish government has housed these refugees in guest camps.The red crescent takes care of logistics and runs the camps, bringing in food and the basic necessities. In Hatay province spread along the border with Syria, six tent cites have come to life. Their residents have had to suspend their normal lives indefinitely. Together with Nidal Shikani, a Syrian refugee living in Belgium since dec. 2010 , we visited two of these refugee camps in the second half of February 2012. I mfirst met Nidal 10 years ago in Damascus, he took a few of the photo's in this series. Nidal’s fellow countrymen seek safety there in an attempt to secure their lives and futures away from the fierce violence of the Assad regime. We stayed several nights at the Reyhanli and Yayladagi camps where we met with those who fled from the aggressive suppression of the Syrian revolution. Men and women shared their stories in search of support, so that their lives need stay on hold much longer. This is my look into life in the blue or white tents, each the size of small room, where men gather for conversation and where babies are raised, families live their daily lives, children play and meals are shared.


 

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From the Reyhanli camp the refugees can see Syria, the border is not even 10 km away. Halep, Syria's second city is about 50 km east of the camp.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 19/02/2012

 

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Many of the refugees have already spent 5 months or more in the camps. Their life is put on hold, they adapt to their uncertain situation as 'guests' of these camps, imprisoned in time. Simple daily routines barely fill the emptiness.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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As a measure against the heavy rains of the past months, all the tents of Reyhanli camp were covered with clear plastic foil.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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Mr Joumaa Assfour and his family live since 5 months in the Yayladagi2 camp. Mr Assfour used to own a large furniture business in Latakya. Few months ago the store got looted by Assads troops and he says he lost 250.000$ that day.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Mr Joumaa Mohamed Zaza lives with his whole family in one tent. They arrived 4 months ago from Idlib. Their youngest son suffers from water in the brain and a split spine which makes daily life particularly complicated. The boy went through surgery several times in Syria without success.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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In the Yayladagi 2 camp, Mr Ismael Assfour pet bird is one of the few possessions he brought from Idlib/Syria. Both man and bird await their freedom.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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Six months ago, Zakaria Ismail arrived in the Reyhanli camp from Idlib, his family is spread over several camps. He took part in our interviews, he had a strong interest for the recording process and quickly became a keen assistant.

Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Since the start of Autumn, the tents were supplied with electricity and each one has a little heater for the winter. The heaters backup as bread toasters, tea warmers, cigaret lighters, cloths dryers, and probably more.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Basic provisions like milk and bread are distributed by the Red Crescent in the camps. The temporary relief provided here, is a bridge to the life that follows .

Turquie - 15/02/2012

 

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Syrian children can attend Turkish language schools in the camp, only the Quran classes are in Arabic.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 15/02/2012

 

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Many families we visited have satelite television and follow the daily news on Al Jazeira, BBC Arabic and the new revolution channels Safa TV, Orient TV, Syria Al Shaab . Of course cartoons are also popular viewing.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 15/02/2012

 

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Each camp has a dedicated communal laundry place. Women queue by placing their laundry basket in line.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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After many weeks of rain and snow people take advantage of the sunshine in between the tents to dry their laundry.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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There is no running water in the tents but fresh water is provided at several points around the Yayladagi 2 camp.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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About half of the refugees are children. The Reyhanli camp is build on an Turkish army site, it has a small play yard and a few sport terrains where the youngest spend much time.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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About half of the refugees are children. The Reyhanli camp is build on an Turkish army site, it has a small play yard and a few sport terrains where the youngest spend much time.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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The Red Crescent, taking care of the logistics at the camps, have a small house for treating minor injuries. but for surgery or birth, the refugees need to be taken to hospitals outside of the camp.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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On the doorsteps of these make-shift homes, men and women let the day continue its slow progress.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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This small store in the Reyhanli camp sells a lot of Syrian groceries. The refugees still get a little taste of home during their long absence. Some of this food is brought across the border with donkeys.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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Next to the main tents, a small side tent serves as a washing place and also to store food and water.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Each evening we spent with a group of men, one of them took care of everyone else: he made tea, controlled the heater, aired the tent when there was to much sigarette smoke.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Most meals we got were a combination of Red cross relief food ( la vache, tinned tuna, eggs,..) and especially imported Syrian food (zaater, olive oil, maghdous, the best olives I ever ate,..). The bread too is partly distributed by the Red Crescent and partly baked in a self-made shared oven.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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Most of our time was spend inside tents.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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At night and during the daytime, these camps are filmed by security camera's.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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At night and during the daytime, these camps are filmed by security camera's.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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The night of our stay at the Yayladagi2 camp, we were treated on a hail storm. The region had a severe winter this year. Several tents collapsed under the weight of the snow.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Mr X, our host in the Reyhanli camp is now retired but spent 25 years in the Syrian army. He lives alone in the camp since November 2011. It took a long time before the other refugees trusted him but now he is one of the father figures of the camp. He loves a game of patience.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Frequent electricity cuts are better than no electricity at all. Those who arrived here first, remember the first months with torches and the tent-town enveloped in darkness.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Men pass the evening together in one tent, playing cards, chain smoking cigarettes and always discussing the revolution, while watching the latest online movies about events in Syria.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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The central pole of each tent guides electrical wiring and usually has a small mirror attached to it.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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These men didn't know each other before they ended up together in a refugee camp. Now they share the same fate and support each other.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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The Reyhanli camp also houses Palestinian refugees. They already were refugees when they lived in Syria so that now they are 'twice refugee'.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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If i wanted I could have had a V sign in every other picture I made.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Mr Joumaa Assfour doesn't believe that peaceful protest only can set Syria free but many people in the camp are afraid of a long term civil war and prefer to fight the regime with the new media

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Some of the refugees have laptops and a few of those are equipped with 'internet on a flashstick'. They follow events in Syria and communicate with family and friends there to stay in informed of what is going on at home.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Evening rituals include plenty of sugar in the tea, laptop and cigarettes among the pots and pans on the kitchen table top.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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These Syrian businessmen live in Antakya since long before the Syrian revolution. They are traders who visited friends in the camp with us.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 15/02/2012

 

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Moustafa Asbiro, 30 years old, arrived in the camp 7 months ago with 4 bullet wounds. He was shot by a sniper, after a demonstration in Idlib when he was leaving on his motorbike. He is unable to walk and desperately waits to be transferred to a hospital for surgery. Meanwhile his family takes care of him.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 15/02/2012

 

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Moustafa Asbiro, 30 years old, arrived in the camp 7 months ago with 4 bullet wounds. He was shot by a sniper, after a demonstration in Idlib when he was leaving on his motorbike. He is unable to walk and desperately waits to be transferred to a hospital for surgery. Meanwhile his family takes care of him.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 15/02/2012

 

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'We die, we die, for the freedom of our country'

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 15/02/2012

 

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Moustafa Asbiro, 30 years old, arrived in the camp 7 months ago with 4 bullet wounds. He wMoustafa Asbiro, 30 years old, arrived in the camp 7 months ago with 4 bullet wounds. He was shot by a sniper, after a demonstration in Idlib when he was leaving on his motorbike. He is unable to walk and desperately waits to be transferred to a hospital for surgery. Meanwhile his family takes care of him.as shot by a sniper, after a demonstration in Idlib when he was leaving on his motorbike. He is unable to walk and desperatly waits to be transfered to a hospital for surgery. Meanwhile his family takes care of him.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 15/02/2012

 

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Despite the very strong winds that make the whole tent rattle and shake we did manage to get a few hours of good sleep in camp Reyhanli.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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Allah, Surya, Huriya u bas! God, Syria, Freedom and nothing else! is main slogan of the revolution.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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Mr Ismael Assfour children made paper flowers to decorate the tent, their father sees them as symbols of hope for the future.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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Mr Ismael Assfour children made paper flowers to decorate the tent, their father sees them as symbols of hope for the future.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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The son of Mr Jouma Assfour has spent the larger part of his young live inside a refugee camp.

Yayladağı, Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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The baby on the left is born in the camp and the light in the life of his grandfather, Mr Ismail, neither of them are shy and they both like meeting new people.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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Grooming is a challenge in the camp. The central pole of a tent usually has a small mirror attached to it.

Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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Mr X, our host in the Reyhanli camp is now retired but spent 25 years in the Syrian army. He lives alone in the camp since November 2011. It took a long time before the other refugees trusted him but now he is one of the father figures of the camp.

Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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The sanitary blocks are suitably located away from the tents.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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This little boy is looking at Syria, just visible on the horizon's hill-tops.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 16/02/2012

 

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The Syrian border was very close, with a long lens we could see the Syrian army bring supplies into a border post with a truck.

Hatay, Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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Very near the Syrian border we visited a small safe house where about 20 soldiers of the FSA stayed. Here they organize small raids into Syria.

Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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The Syrian border was very close, with a long lens we could see the Syrian army bring supplies into a border post with a truck.

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The refugee camps are called 'guest camps' but most refugees feel prisoners of the Syrian regime and would like nothing more than to return to Syria .

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 19/02/2012

 

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Mohamed worked many years for Al-Mukhabarat, the Syrian secret service. He deserted 5 months ago and has belonged to the FSA since then.

Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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We spoke to 6 soldiers and 4 of them showed us in front of the camera for the first time that they left Assad's army.

Hatay, Turquie - 18/02/2012

 

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Mohamed Ali Jnidi Al Ghab wanted us to know he left Assads troops.

Turquie - 17/02/2012

 

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The refugees are free to leave the camp if they want. They can also get permits to visit friends or family in other camps.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 19/02/2012

 

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Camp life is not varied, but people make the most of what there is and the tent camp has its lively places and moments.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 19/02/2012

 

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The architecture of the tents surrounding small streets and playgrounds, is not just shelter, but the background to temporarily suspended lives.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 19/02/2012

 

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The Reyhanli camp houses about 2500 people. It provides a short-term home, for Syrian refugees who find themselves in the no-mans land of their lives, where there is no way back and no way forward.

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turquie - 19/02/2012

 

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Landscape for exhiles.

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