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A Navanti researcher in Syria's Idlib province spoke to residents who have tried repeatedly to cross into Turkey, putting their lives in danger in hope of leaving the war behind.
A minaret is visible behind rubble in Idlib city. Source: Navanti

The following was written by a Navanti researcher in Idlib province and translated into English. 

Syrians try to enter Turkey illegally from Idlib province every day. Although the crossing is dangerous, it is nothing when compared to what remains behind: some migrants have seen their families killed by aerial bombardment, others have had their houses destroyed, and others still simply want to escape the violence and unending battles swirling around them. While the Turkish government’s recent crackdown on Syrian migrants is likely to reduce the rate of illegal crossing attempts, it will not reduce the desire of many people to escape their dire conditions.

Migrants are desperate for any way out of Idlib province, which is primarily controlled by a faction called Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) that is al-Qaida’s former branch in Syria. HTS and Syrian government forces have engaged in a series of tit-for-tat attacks despite a ceasefire that went into effect in fall 2018, and Damascus began a new offensive against rebel-held Idlib in April of this year. Because of the fighting and terrible humanitarian conditions, migrants are willing to pay exorbitant fees and believe far-fetched promises in order to escape. Some are led to think that if they pay enough – up to $2,000 per person – they can be led along a route where Turkish authorities turn a blind eye and allow anyone through.

Migrating women are vulnerable to harassment from guides during the journey. They are forced to keep quiet, told that their voices risk tipping off Turkish guards to the group’s whereabouts; guides can threaten to kill them or abandon them if they speak up. 

A sign in Idlib reads, "Democracy is the Tyrant of the Age." Source: Navanti
Um Bilal, a mother of three, has tried to cross the border with her children dozens of times over the course of three months, so far without any success. She described one such attempt to me:

“I remember on one crossing attempt, a woman and her son were with us, and when the [Turkish] gendarmerie [along the border] opened fire, a bullet entered his back and left through his stomach. No one came to help him. When his mother started screaming, the gendarmerie came and took her to prison, then put a cloth bandage on her son and sent him to prison as well. He was getting worse, so his mother screamed at the guards, ‘take me back to Syria! I want to treat my son,’ then collapsed.

I watched a Turkish officer scream in her face: ‘Turkey is not for Syrians, you risked your child’s life, so bear the consequences.’ As she cried and screamed that her child was dying, eventually they took the child to a clinic inside Turkey. The rest of us spent the entire day in prison, and the next morning they deported us all back to Syria, including the mother, while her son was treated in Turkey.”

To read Um Bilal's full story, as well as a firsthand account of a successful crossing into Turkey, click here.

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