KILIS, TURKEY —
As many as 200,000 undocumented Syrian refugees are living outside the refugee camps in southern Turkey. Many don't have passports and Turkish authorities are trying to register and look after them. But the undocumented refugees say aid is still scarce and some are forced to live off the land.
Um’Steif Aysa al Fadil, a Syrian mother of eight, gathers khubays, a leafy green vegetable, on the scrap of land she now inhabits outside Kilis in southern Turkey.
This plant, which she will boil and feed to her children, is the only regular food her family has had since they fled government airstrikes in Syria a month ago.
Um’Steif’s family are among tens of thousands of undocumented Syrian refugees who have crossed into Turkey.
They spent their first 10 days here sleeping in a public park before finding this plot to rent. But their money has almost run out and her sons can’t find work.
"It’s winter time and we don’t know anybody here, that’s why we can’t find work," Um’Steif said.
She says she and her family miss home. "I wish we could just wake up tomorrow and go back to Syria, Syria is so beautiful," Um’Steif said.
Um’Steif’s son-in-law, Ahmed Naseef, arrived in Turkey a few days ago after his children narrowly escaped an air raid. He said without a house or a job he has no idea how he is going to look after them.
"We’re not getting much support, only a little. We don't have much of a chance here because we’re here illegally, without passports," Ahmed Naseef said.
The plight of these refugees does not seem to improve with time. Ahmed Mustafa, a tailor, fled Syria seven months ago. His family of 11 now live in two rooms above a stable but he says they could be evicted at any time. Ahmed’s children spent last winter without shoes and none of them has a school to attend.
"How do you think my life is now?! I have 8 children and I lost my entire house, It’s completely destroyed, there isn’t even a glass left there to drink water from," Mustafa said.
Turkey, with the support of the UNHCR, is opening 10 coordination centers to register undocumented Syrians and distribute aid. So far, it has processed 50,000 people but an additional 150,000 remain unregistered.