“We haven’t had green vegetables since we got here a month and a half ago, only bulgar and rice” said Jasem, whose husband, Amr, was mayor of their destroyed village of Shaharnaz, near Hama. “The mayor here gave us some meat when we arrived. But none since then.”
Despite the millions spent on humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries such as Turkey, unknown thousands of Syrians are living with hunger and deprivation. That’s because they walked into the bordering countries illegally, so they cannot go to the camps set up for registered refugees.
In Turkey, the 13 government-established camps are full with more than 140,000 refugees. Now, the government is denying official entry to any more refugees trying to escape the brutal civil war in Syria. Turkey has not authorized many international humanitarian groups to operate within the country, so most nongovernmental organizations are focusing their efforts on refugee camps inside Syria, close to the Turkish border in areas where Syrian planes have dropped bombs.
But still the refugees come, walking over mountains, trekking through minefields and traveling across rivers in small tubs pulled by rope from one bank to the other.
Often it falls to ordinary Turks, such as the villagers of tiny Davutpasa, to provide the refugees food and shelter. The 700 residents of Davutpasa, most of whom are farmers or government workers, have taken in about 400 Syrians in the past two months. Local men bring them firewood, and women come by to teach them how to bake bread in the outdoor ovens that are common.
“The Syrians are escaping death,” said Semseddin Cunedioglu, the mayor of Davutpasa. “We can’t close our doors to them.”
Though the surrounding area is heavily Alawite, the Shiite sect that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs to, many residents around Davutpasa are Sunnis and sympathetic to the Syrian uprising. For Cunedioglu, it’s more basic. “I’m a farmer and a Muslim, too,” he said.
He has turned over his entire three-bedroom house, where his family of five normally lives, to a Syrian family of 60 and moved to an apartment he owns in nearby Reyhanli, where he is taking in more Syrians. He shows receipts for more than $500 in food and a separate set of utility bills. His wife, Yuksel, frets that they will have to pull their three daughters from college because of the bills he often pays from his own pocket, though he has gotten a small donation from a humanitarian worker. Yuksel describes herself as not angry at her husband’s generosity, but worried about the expense.