Inside Turkey's Aid Efforts In Syria

Jun 23, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now a dispatch from one part of Syria that's found a kind of uneasy calm. The Euphrates Shield area, as it's become known, is a rebel-held part of the country on the border with Turkey. Turkey, of course, is allied with the opposition fighting against the Syrian regime and helps fund police and schools there. It's also running a massive aid effort for refugees. NPR's Ruth Sherlock got rare permission to make a trip inside to find out why.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: When you cross into this part of Syria, you're immediately hit by the sheer crush of human life. The streets are crowded with motorcycles, sometimes four people to a bike. Shepherds navigate their goats amid the traffic of cars and trucks. And everywhere you look, on the roadside and in the mud amid olive groves, there are refugee camps. It's safer here than in other parts of rebel-held Syria. For one thing, the skies are quiet. It's so close to the Turkish border that the Syrian regime and its ally Russia dare not risk airstrikes here for fear of Turkey's air defenses. In fact, Turkey controls much of this part of Syria. Even the schools here teach Turkish. And Turkey has launched a massive emergency aid effort.

NAR JIGERAI: (Speaking Turkish).

SHERLOCK: Nar Jigerai is the local coordinator for AFAD, the Turkish development agency. He speaks to us from the aid distribution center that he says provides help to both local Syrians and the internally displaced who live in this Turkish-backed area. He shows us around some of the 11 huge warehouses on the grounds. He takes us inside one.

JIGERAI: (Speaking Turkish).

SHERLOCK: The place is piled high with tents, blankets, mattresses. He says it's the emergency aid for those who arrive from other parts of Syria. Recently, there's been a flood of people fleeing fighting near Damascus. Aid workers busily pack food into boxes.

Lentils, beans, flour.

Another warehouse has been turned into a bread factory.

Merhaba.

Hundreds of lumps of dough pass through an oven on a conveyor belt emerging as hot flat bread.

Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Bread.

SHERLOCK: Smells delicious.

A local employee explains what he's seeing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Turkish).

LAMA: They use 10 tons of dough to make bread for 10,000 people in the camps daily.

SHERLOCK: The effort is vital for the refugees here, and it could help prevent another influx of Syrians over Turkey's border, says Haid Haid, an analyst with the British think tank Chatham House. I reach him by Skype.

HAID HAID: They started with providing some kind of humanitarian aid in order to feed people there so they don't cross to Turkey but also to encourage Syrian refugees who are in Turkey to move back to Syria.

SHERLOCK: Turkey wants to make this place an area that Syrians feel safe to go back to. But that hope still feels like a distant dream.

JIGERAI: (Speaking Turkish).

SHERLOCK: Jigerai, the AFAD coordinator, says they struggle to provide even enough tents for the new arrivals that seem to come every day. And there's still the question of who will eventually control this area. That will depend on the war. But for now, Turkey wants to make clear that it is in control. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, northern Syria.

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