SABA, TURKEY —
For Syrian refugees in Turkey, it is often as difficult to get back into Syria as it was to get out.
This morning I took a taxi to a village with a main road along the barbed-wire border with Syria.
On our way, the driver picked up a husband and wife, both Syrian refugees, from their home – they were going the same way. It was the third day in a row they had made the trip.
The wife was trying to get back to Syria to secure her job, when or if the war ever ends.
For refugees, the tricky thing about crossing into Syria is that because it is illegal to re-enter Turkey, soldiers confiscate their refugee IDs as they leave. Those cards give them access to medical care.
And while it’s illegal, almost no one is going into parts of Syria near the Turkish border without the intention of coming back. The Syrian border region is packed with battling militant groups, including an Islamic State camp only a few kilometers away.
So, if a Syrian refugee wants to come back and still have access to health care, he or she has to travel illegally both ways.
Unfortunately for our fellow taxi passengers, when we got to the Syrian border, a truckload of soldiers was parked at the spot where there is a small break in the barbed-wire fence. The couple said the soldiers were also there the previous two days.
We went to a nearby makeshift cafe behind a cinder block wall to wait to see if the soldiers cleared out.
The cafe was actually someone’s garden, but with so many Syrians waiting for the soldiers to leave before they can cross the border, the owner decided to serve tea.
We didn’t stay long because several young men in the garden were human smugglers, and they told us the soldiers would likely be there all day. I was grateful for the brevity, as I could hear gunfire not far away.
A witness later told us the gunfire came from soldiers firing warning shots to scare off Syrians attempting to enter Turkey illegally.
Our next destination was another spot along the border where either the police or the smugglers had made another opening in the barbed wire. But the road to that spot had been closed overnight, with a mound of broken cinder blocks a few meters high.
Finally, we went to a gas station, where a bus parked in the lot was manned by smugglers.
They told the woman I was traveling with that, since the bus was empty, her fare to the next break in the fence would cost $50, rather than the standard $26, when the bus is full.
Her husband was offended by the mark-up, so they decided to wait another day.
Escape by sea
After we dropped them off at home, we went to a bus station where Syrians pack into buses going to beach towns west of here. There, they pay huge amounts of money to take rubber rafts across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece.
The buses had left already, but we saw a small group of Syrians hanging around a taxi.
We asked a teenage boy where they were going.
“A smuggler called us and told us the crossing point is open,” he explained. “We’re going to Syria,” he added as we walked away. “If you’re going, you can come with us."