“We are in the final stage of the collapse of the regime, and we have to be ready from Day One,” said Yazji, who lived in the United States for 20 years and runs a Syrian medical relief charity based in Turkey.
The hospital, he says, will repudiate everything Syrian President Bashar al-Assad represents. That means treating captured security forces members who fought against the rebels to prop up Assad’s government, the same government that has arrested, tortured and killed physicians who provided medical assistance to protesters and rebel fighters over the course of the 20-month-old conflict.
“We are not like them,” said Yazji, speaking in his unmarked office in an apartment building in Reyhanli, on the Turkish side of the border.
The town is suspended between war and peace. It is filled with dreamers who are forging ahead with plans for new hospitals and town councils, civil courts and police departments, even trash collection, in parts of northwestern Syria that are controlled by rebel forces. It also is a place steeped in pain. Hundreds of wounded Syrians have been brought across the border, in need of specialized care that, right now, is unavailable here.
Reyhanli’s 60,000 residents are mostly Sunni Arabs with close familial ties to the Syrians who live on the other side of the mountain, beyond razor-wire fencing that marks the border. They have largely welcomed the 15,000 Syrians who have sought sanctuary among them — a stark contrast to Turkish cities with large populations of Alawites, members of Assad’s Shiite-affiliated sect, where demonstrators have come out in support of the Syrian president.
Local officials have turned a blind eye to Syrians selling used cars of questionable origins, sporting Bulgarian license plates, from a vacant lot next to a rehabilitation center. They have accommodated more than 20 international humanitarian groups looking for quiet ways to donate medicine and food to Syrians without drawing attention, because not all of the organizations are registered with the Turkish government.
“We come on tourist visas,” said a worker for a Europe-based nongovernmental organization who spoke on the condition that the group not be named. “We make a few contacts here. . . . Then we get to know some people who work at the border. If they like you, they’ll let you do your work. It’s all very personal.”
At the same time, residents are making money off the refugees. Many landlords have increased rents fivefold, and merchants have put up handwritten storefront signs in Arabic to attract refugees who have a little money to spend.