Skip to main content

Syrians find calm after carnage

By Daniel Lippman, Special for CNN
January 25, 2013 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Refugee children outside a building housing displaced Syrians in the Turkish border town of Hacipasa.
Refugee children outside a building housing displaced Syrians in the Turkish border town of Hacipasa.
  • A Turkish border town is dealing with an influx of refugees escaping Syria
  • Some refugees find shelter with friends and relatives; others in a warehouse
  • Hacipasa mayor says they have seen little international aid
  • Refugees say that after a tough journey out of Syria, they feel abandoned by international community

Editor's note: Daniel Lippman is a freelance journalist based in Washington and has written for The Wall Street Journal, McClatchy Newspapers, Reuters and The Huffington Post. He is on Twitter @dlippman.

Hacipasa, Turkey (CNN) -- Umm Isham, a 34-year-old housewife, lost her husband five months ago to a blast from a Syrian tank, and had her house near Damascus leveled by a bomb. Her two sons, 11 and 12, will grow up without their father.

She tried to stay in her country but recently decided to seek safety in Turkey, crossing the border illegally, with little money and few clothes. She had arrived in Hacipasa just four hours earlier, with the ankles of her jeans still wet and muddy from crossing the Orontes river that divides the Turkish border town from northwestern Syria.

Read more: Special coverage on the Syrian refugees

The regime is "shelling houses and killing people along the way. It's not safe to send your son anywhere because a sniper might be shooting. Nobody is safe. What kind of regime is killing its own people?" she asked.

Umm Isham, who asked that she only be identified by her nickname, and her two children are among the latest of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled the intense civil war that has raged for almost two years.

Read more: Syria's grim toll continues into 2013

More than 1,000 Syrian refugees are in Hacipasa, Mayor Mehmet Zia Kirk said -- living with relatives or friends, in rented houses or under tarps in a warehouse.

Syrian civil war stuck in stalemate
Challenges feeding 1.5M Syrian refugees
Bombed-out Syrian town still in shock

The United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 Syrians have died since the uprising against the regime started in March 2011.

Read more: How Syria's bloodshed drove a peaceful protester into the battlelines

The conflict is mainly between the majority Sunnis who are battling against the minority Alawite-dominated regime led by Bashar al-Assad.

In December, the U.N. called for $1.1 billion for externally displaced Syrians' humanitarian needs, but only 18 percent of the appeal has been funded, according to a briefing by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday.

An international aid conference is planned for January 30 in Kuwait to try to raise more of the money.

U.N. regional refugee coordinator Panos Moumtzis recently said the U.N. estimates that five million Syrians in 2013 will be in urgent need of assistance with shelter, medical treatment, food, and water.

In the Bab al-Salam camp on the Syrian-Turkish border, Syrian refugees try to carry on their lives through the bitter winter. Muhammad Zafir, 13, steps inside the hole he dug with two of his friends: a bomb shelter they have made for children. In the Bab al-Salam camp on the Syrian-Turkish border, Syrian refugees try to carry on their lives through the bitter winter. Muhammad Zafir, 13, steps inside the hole he dug with two of his friends: a bomb shelter they have made for children.
Life when fleeing everything
Life when fleeing everything Life when fleeing everything

Turkey says 156,801 Syrians as of January 21 are registered as living in the country -- an increase of nearly 50,000 people since early November and all camps are reported to be operating at or above capacity -- and the figure is rising daily.

Read more: Scavenging for food, Syrian children witness war

As the war has dragged on with brutal street fighting and air attacks by the Syrian military, many civilians have been killed or injured.

Refugees in Hacipasa say they feel abandoned by the international community. According to the town's mayor, while some Turkish groups are helping Syrian refugees, only one international group, a German aid organization, is currently in the town. UNHCR says it is working with the Turkish government to help support Syrian refugees.

"What is so urgent now is heating devices [for the winter cold], the basic food people need, especially flour, to make bread and other basic stuff like milk for children. This is so urgent. They need many things," the mayor explained.

Read more: The Syrian crisis: Where's U.S. aid going?

Military shells from fighting just across the border have landed on the Turkish side raising tensions. A little further inside Syria is Aleppo, scene of some of the fiercest fighting.

Just getting to Hacipasa is perilous for Syrian refugees who have to endure cold winter weather, navigate around Turkish border guards, and avoid fighting between the army and the rebels.

Life in Hacipasa has been changed by the war which has come so close to the town -- the refugees need help and residents often hear the sounds of shelling or bombs hitting targets inside Syria.

Hasan, who declined to give his last name, was a furniture factory worker in Aleppo but fled the city after the war intensified, work dried up and prices sharply rose.

Read more: 'Innocence' survives 11 hours under bomb rubble in Syria

He then went to Darkush, Syria, but left again because of bombing, ending up in Hacipasa two months ago with his brother Tahsan, 23, an economics student. Both men occasionally find odd jobs when locals need men to carry shipments from one place to another or farmers need workers to harvest olives.

They have lost some friends and two cousins in the war and want to return home but say they will stay in Turkey until it's safe in Syria and the fighting has subsided.

"If we don't get support, it could be eight months or a year until the rebels win. It's up to the will of God. But if the international community decides to help Syria and establish a no-fly zone, toppling the regime would happen much more quickly," says Hasan, 26.

Syrian children mingled around a building that houses around 100 refugees under tarps. They played with each other and made "V" signs while chanting "The people want the fall of the regime" to a reporter.

Farah, which means "Joy" in Arabic, is a 15 year-old girl from Darkush, Syria, who has been in Hacipasa off-and-on for a year.

Read more: Syrian refugees continue to flood Jordan amid warnings of crisis

She says that because she participated in demonstrations and her father was known as an anti-Assad activist who is now an FSA fighter, she was kicked out of her school.

Sectarian divisions in Syria, she says, were even present in school exams with Alawite teachers helping Alawite students cheat on their tests to get into better high schools.

"The soldiers came and went inside my school and they went inside the school and since that time, nobody went to school. We were afraid," she says softly.

She misses her hobbies of knitting and painting and longs to see her friends who have fled to different Turkish towns.

"All the time I am so worried about my father. I always think about people on the other side because I hear bombing and shelling. I don't want to be selfish and forget them... I am safe maybe but I am not happy at all because I had to leave my own country and I always worry about people, my family and my father."

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.