3 Million and NOT Counting: The Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Phil Johnson, Ph.D.
October 4, 2017
Global Next Research Group

“Every time someone like you comes you’re coming to create more suicide bombers. You’re coming so that more of us will die. Tell me! Tell me why you want to be here! I am tired of seeing my Muslims brothers die because of people like you. I’m sick of this! I don’t want to do this anymore. I have to end this.”

IMG_0805That was the last phone call I had with Kadri, my Turkish fixer who had driven me to theTurkish/Syrian border at Kilis and who brought me to the government office that denied my entry to visit the Syrian refugee camp. (Or even speak with a Syrian refugee.)  But a couple of days later, after reviewing my press credentials, the Turkish government had a change of heart and offered me a chance to visit Oncupina Accommodation Facility – one of the refugee camps in Syria that was designed to provide (showcase) a higher quality of living for Syrian refugees.

When I contacted Kadri to tell him the good news, the “you’re only coming to create suicide bombers” conversation is what I got. So I left Kadri behind and made other arrangements. It seemed safer – and like it would be a little more fun without him. In subsequent texts exchanged days later, he claims that he had no recollection of the conversation – that he was on some sort of  “medication” at the time. Hmmm… I”m pretty sure I made the right decision.

IMG_0804I had met Kadri in Gaziantep – a town 30 miles north of the Syrian border. At first glance, Gaziantep is a charming city, But this is a place where individuals  who are critical of ISIS have been murdered on the street in broad daylight, where car bombs go off, where a suicide bomber killed at least 51 people attending a wedding, where there are rumors of ISIS sleeper cells, where serious weapons are sold and exchanged and where Westerners are tracked. Gaziantep is a passage way of evil,  a place where plots are hatched, Westerners are stalked and high-profile terrorists have passed on their their way to places like London or Brussels to bring death and chaos.

The Civil War in Syria has been tragic. The human toll is unimaginable. I admire the number of refugees Turkey has taken in – at least 3 million. Of course there were deals and incentives with the European Union to take more of the refugees and time will tell  how well all of this works out. I believe that Turkey desires for the refugees to return to Syria after the war. When  I spoke to Syrians about the issue, they expressed the same desire to go back home. But for some, the real question is: “Go home to what?”

The Oncupina Accommodation Facility is located in Kilis – right on the border of Turkey and Syria. At one time, the town of Kilis was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for hosting a greater number of refugees than there were people actually living in in in the city.  Except it seemed that very few people were around.  _89297131_8e5f21c1-3329-48e8-b381-2db1b8cdbe5b

Visiting Oncupina Accommodation Facility seemed like what I would imagine visiting North Korea to be like.  I was supposed to see exactly what they wanted me to see, and nothing else. And I certainly had enough “minders” with me to make sure.

And what I was shown was impressive. Containers for living quarters, rather than tents, classrooms for the children, washing machines, computers, satellite dishes – it was like  its own little village.


According to the Camp Director, the camp houses more than 10,000 refugees. Interestingly, there are more women than men living in the camp. Immigrants to Europe had men outnumbering women at more than 2 to 1Regarding Syrian refugees to Europe, 71% were male. Something just doesn’t seem right…

So where was everyone? Why did the camp seem so sparsely populated when I was there? Were people in their living containers? Were they at work? There is a thriving blackmarket of Syrians working jobs for lower wages. Even while the Turkish government has mandated that the refugees must be paid the same as a Turk, few managers want to go that route – it’s time consuming and more expensive. IMG_0859 2

According to the Camp Director, the people can come and go. They’re given ID cards so that they can gain re-entry into the camp. The Director made it clear that entry to the camp is restricted. But it appeared that  exiting from the camp was no trouble at  all. When I pushed the Director of the Camp for a clearer answer, he begrudgingly acknowledged that some people come through the camp, and leave the camp, and that it is very difficult to track them or know where they go – and yes, he admitted, it’s a bit of a concern.

Well, given what seemed like a come-back-and-forth-as-you-like at the border station between Syria and Turkey and the millions of refugees already inTurkey (No one knows the real number, but it’s more than 3 million) – a town like Gaziantep, festering with weapons, sex trafficking and ISIS members – all just a plane or bus ride from Istanbul, seems like it would, indeed, be a “bit of a concern.”IMG_0861

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