CEYLANPINAR, Turkey — As fighting intensifies between government and rebel forces in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes. On the Turkish border, some 50 kilometers from Aleppo, authorities are bracing for an influx of refugees.
In the searing summer heat, the vast and dusty Ceylanpinar refugee camp is the new home for refugees who have fled Syria for their lives. It is two kilometers from the Turkish-Syrian border and 10 kilometers from the nearest village.
Security is tight and many refugees say that conditions are so inhospitable that they would prefer to take their chances back in Syria.
Some 29,000 refugees have decided to return home, according to the Turkish government. Other refugee camps, like Kilis further west, are full.
Aleppo is about a 40 minute drive south. The United Nations estimates that more than 200,000 people have been forced to flee the city as fighting intensifies. But so far, only a fraction of that number have crossed the border into Turkey.
"Now the center of Aleppo is being shelled and attacked by the government forces,” explained a refugee from Aleppo, who did not want to be named. “But the surrounding countryside is under the full control of the Free Syrian Army opposition rebels. So people are staying with relatives or friends there.”
Turkish authorities say they are preparing for up to 100,000 refugees.
While inspecting the Ceylanpinar camp, Kilis Governor Yusuf Odabas appeared unsure when asked about the potential for a sudden influx of refugees.
“Don’t ask me," he said. "Maybe you have reporters there, you will get more accurate information from them if there are attacks there, or if the refugees are stuck and can’t come here. Those who come to our border, we bring them in. Those who are injured, we give medical care.”
Lying in a special medical ward in Antakya General Hospital reserved for Syrians, a man named Mohammed showed the deep wound in his back torn by shrapnel. He said he was at home in Jisr al-Shugour when government forces launched a mortar attack on the village last week.
He said forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al- Assad are using helicopters and fighter jets and that "all Syrian cities are on fire."
It appears that the Free Syria Army is holding enough ground to allow civilians to escape the gun battles raging in cities like Aleppo.
But if the rebels lose that grip, analysts say camps like Ceylanpinar could soon house tens of thousands more refugees.