SWSDAR AREF AWOKE NEXT TO HER HUSBAND MAZLOM IBRAHIM AND THREE CHILDREN ON FRIDAY MORNING. It was their eighth day in a grey, plastic tent with gravel flooring covered by a plastic sheet. They have stayed here in this empty lot cum refugee camp since crossing the border into Turkey after fleeing their village in Syria more than two weeks ago. It was also the day Aref’s husband disappeared.
The young couple and their neighbors like them, Syrian Kurds, had settled into the monotony of their new daily routine as refugees, drinking tea in the shade of roughly 100 tents just like theirs in an empty lot in Suruç — a medium sized town a little over three miles into Turkey from the Syrian border.
That morning Aref had taken her children to use the bathroom – a half completed building of bare concrete and protruding steel hastily out-fitted with portable toilets for the influx from Kobani. When they returned to their tent, Ibrahim, Aref’s husband of five years, was gone. He’d gone back to fight for Kobani, their home, and the latest focal point in the Islamic State’s brutal sweep across the region.
Ibrahim would join an unknown number of fighters defending the city with People’s Protection Units (commonly known as the YPG) — the armed wing of the Kurdish Supreme Committee of Syrian Kurdistan. They are vastly ill equipped and out-gunned to fend off the IS offensive, and their calls for international assistance (for weapons) have so far gone unheeded.
Aref is among the countless thousands of women who have crossed into Turkey with only what little they could carry. Many have waited weeks on the Syrian side of the border. After finally reaching the bottlenecked border gate, they’re funneled through to the Turkish side where they undergo a series of health and security checks before being deposited on to a dusty plain where they then must wait for trucks to collect them. Where they trucks will deliver them, however, is unknown.
The women and children, like Aref and her sons, sit with piles of white sacks filled with clothes and other necessities. Many are overcome by their hasty exodus from Kobani and all the uncertainty that await — unsure whether they’ll ever see their homes, or their men — their boys — again.