The families behind the frontline in Kobane

The recently established refugee camp in Suruç Turkey

The tension on the streets of the southern Turkish border town of Suruç is evident by the number of tanks rolling heavily through the town. Just off a central street my colleagues are making the final preparations for the distribution of blankets in the recently established refugee camp.

My attention is diverted when an elderly man, clearly respected in the newly thrown-together community, parted the people and headed towards me. He was angry, and he had a message. “They destroy our homes, they rape our girls, we are defending the whole world from this terror.”

Anger and despair

The families in the tents surrounding him shared his anger and despair. One woman I spoke to told me that a few days ago her brother-in-law had been killed in the fighting. Now her brother was on the frontline risking his life to protect their town.

Instead of grieving in their family home in Kobane, their new world is a tent, with a rocky stone floor, presumably a piece of wasteland before becoming home to thousands of refugees from across the border.

What choice did they have?

She desperately wanted to stay in her home but when three shells hit their neighbourhood her family were forced to cross the border. What choice did they have?

She told me that they were afraid that what had happened to the people of Sinjar in Iraqi Kurdistan would happen to them. That her sisters and friends would be sold into slavery or raped, that her three young sons would be kidnapped and her husband murdered. She had no choice.

So like nearly all those in the tents around her, they took the decision to leave and they left quickly, with only the clothes on their back and the money in their pockets – which wasn’t much.

Winter is coming

Winter is coming, her children are wearing t-shirts and they have no means of earning money. The day we met, CARE was distributing blankets to keep them warm on the chilly nights. The day after we met, there was heavy rain in the area, but changing clothes was not an option for them.

This is not the first time she has faced the exhaustion and worry of an upheaval. Like many people in Kobane, she had already fled violence before in southern Syria. That time it was a different group closing in on their home, but the terror was still the same, and her young boys, no older than six, are now in the third ‘home’ of their short lives.

Future on hold

It is doubtful her small boys will receive an education any time soon, for now, like an entire generation of youth, their future is on hold. These children are perhaps a little young to yearn for their education, but I am reminded of our Syrian translator who, after four years of hard work, was just one year away from graduating as a mechanical engineer. She has found no way to pursue her qualification in Turkey, so her skills – skills that would have served her country – are lost.

Longing to return home

She tries to imagine a time that she can go home to complete her education. All those I met, whether arriving from the latest crisis in Kobane, or from their own, different trauma in a different Syrian town or village, longed to return home. As the numbers of refugees in the region mounts – an estimated three million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries – and as anniversaries of the conflict come and go, it becomes harder to imagine the individual stories of pain and loss. But we must not become immune to their stories, and we cannot abandon them to a life without a future.

This article was first published on the Guardian website on 10 October 2014

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