Turkish camps are rumored to be squalid, and many refugees calculate that Syrian jets are unlikely to strike this close to the border. So a de facto buffer zone has emerged here, a default version of the haven that Turkey and many Syrians want created on a far larger scale inside Syria.
Khaled Abdullah, 40, seated on a dun-colored sheet and leaning against tall piles of Syrian flat bread in the paralyzing midday heat, announced that he had no intention of leaving. “This place is safe,” he said.
Abdullah was among 10,000 or so Syrians waiting on Turkey’s borders this week, most of whom were trying to join the 80,000 refugees who have made it across. On Thursday, Turkey appealed for a humanitarian corridor inside Syria where civilians would be protected. Although some countries, including France, have expressed support for that idea, it has little international momentum. The United Nations said this week that the proposal raises “serious questions.”
“How long are we going to sit and watch while an entire generation is being wiped out by random bombardment and deliberate mass targeting?” Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said Thursday at the United Nations. “We need to focus on the steps which must be taken within the borders of Syria.”
At Bab al-Salameh, which has become a sort of accidental mini safe zone, many would agree. Rebels smoking Gauloises cigarettes stamp passports near a former Aleppo post office branch; others keep watch and maintain order. Workers for a Turkish charity serve rice and bread, while others assemble a trailer housing seven showers, a donation from the Turkish government. A man who said the Syrian regime has imprisoned his father for 31 years sells Pepsis in a shop.
Abdullah, a grocer from the nearby town of Marea, said that for a while, his family was able to hide under the stairs during government shelling. But when Syrian jets — MiGs, he and everyone here calls them — began pounding the region several weeks ago, it became unbearable.
The children jumped at any noise, he said. The adults could not go out to buy milk. It fell to Abdullah, as the eldest son, to lead 44 women and children to safety. His wife gave birth to their ninth child, a stillborn girl, as they hid in fields on the way, he said, betraying no hint of self-pity.
“I am ready to give three of my children to get rid of Bashar,” Abdullah said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.