BAB AL-SALAMEH, Syria – Pregnant with twins, Fatima Abdallah survived shelling, hid under relatives’ beds and went without food during a treacherous weekslong trip across the Syrian border.
Safely in a Turkish hospital, she gave birth to a healthy boy and a girl. But after just two nights, she was sent right back, the victim of the overwhelmed country’s ban of new refugee arrivals until more camps can be built.
Abdallah, 29, brushed away the flies in a cramped, 10-foot concrete shed near the border crossing, where at least 5,000 other refugees waited to cross into a safer haven from Syria’s 18 months of violence.
She held her 4-day-old son son, Ahmed, as he furiously sucked away on his pacifier, while her daughter Bayan slept, eyes tightly closed, in pink and blue fuzzy blankets.
I want a clean house, she said softly, gesturing at the mud-tracked concrete floor. Just a safe home for them, it’s just not clean here.
Her plight is part of the poignant ordeal of at least 5,000 refugees stranded with little food and unsanitary conditions at the Bab Al-Salameh crossing, camped in immense sheds where trucks carrying cargo were once inspected.
Ailing refugees wait outside, some stretched out on cots, to be treated by doctors for diabetes and food poisoning. A baby whose family fled the city of Aleppo weeks ago sleeps in a car seat, surrounded by mosquito netting.
The refugees are stranded here on the border because of Turkey’s decision two weeks ago to ban new arrivals into the country until it can construct new refugee camps. The country has already taken in some 80,000 Syrians and will let women in like Abdallah, but only to give birth.
The United Nations estimates that there 1.2 million people displaced inside of Syria – half of them children – and nowhere is that more apparent than in Bab al-Salameh, which seems overrun by children of all ages, some even as young as the 4-day-old twins.
Abdallah and her twins are actually more comfortable than most in their small room. Around them, thousands of others sleep in the open, spreading plastic mats on the concrete at the mercy of the insects and the elements, their few possessions spread around them.