In Turkish border town, Syrian doctors and other refugees plan the future

 

REYHANLI, Turkey

Operating rooms and intensive care units are being outfitted in an abandoned customs house located just a few yards from here, across the Syrian border in rebel-controlled territory at the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

Rebel fighters and civilians with gruesome injuries arrive every day, in desperate need of medical treatment. Even though Syrian warplanes have dropped bombs nearby, and international intelligence officials warn that those bombs could soon be equipped with chemical warheads, Syrian internist Monzer Yazji and the doctors he is working with say they are determined to open their 60-bed hospital soon.

"We are in the final stage of the collapse of the regime, and we have to be ready from Day One," said Yazji, who lived in the United States for 20 years and runs a Syrian medical relief charity based in Turkey.

The hospital, he says, will repudiate everything Syrian President Bashar Assad represents. That means treating captured security forces members who fought against the rebels to prop up Assad's government, the same government that has arrested, tortured and killed physicians who provided medical assistance to protesters and rebels over the course of the 20-month-old civil conflict.

"We are not like them," said Yazji, speaking in his unmarked office in an apartment building in Reyhanli, on the Turkish side of the border.

The town is suspended between war and peace. It is filled with dreamers who are forging ahead with plans for new hospitals and town councils, civil courts and police departments, even trash collection, in parts of northwestern Syria that are controlled by rebel forces. It also is a place steeped in pain. Hundreds of wounded Syrians have been brought across the border, in need of specialized care that, right now, is unavailable here.

Reyhanli's 60,000 residents are mostly Sunni Arabs with close familial ties to the Syrians who live on the other side of the mountain, beyond razor-wire fencing that marks the border. They have largely welcomed the 15,000 Syrians who have sought sanctuary among them — a stark contrast to Turkish cities with large populations of Alawites, members of Assad's Shiite-affiliated sect, where demonstrators have come out in support of the Syrian president.

Local officials have turned a blind eye to Syrians selling used cars of questionable origin, sporting Bulgarian license plates, from a vacant lot next to a rehabilitation center. They have accommodated more than 20 international humanitarian groups looking for quiet ways to donate medicine and food to Syrians without drawing attention, because not all are registered with the Turkish government.

"We come on tourist visas," said a worker for a Europe-based nongovernmental organization who spoke on the condition that the group not be named. "We make a few contacts here . . . Then we get to know some people who work at the border. If they like you, they'll let you do your work. It's all very personal."

At the same time, residents are making money off the refugees. Many landlords have increased rents five-fold, and merchants have pasted up hand-written storefront signs in Arabic, to attract refugees who have a little money to spend.

Every day, 10 to 20 people are brought across the border — children with bullets in their skulls, old men whose feet are swollen and red with gaping wounds, young men paralyzed from the waist down because of shrapnel or bullets.

The three rehabilitation centers in Reyhanli are staffed by Syrian physicians, many of whom left their country to avoid arrest for treating rebels and civilian protesters. Most do not have licenses to provide more than rudimentary care. They fear torture and death if they return to Syria.

"This is the first time a government has targeted physicians," said Yazji, who as head of the umbrella Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations makes periodic forays into besieged Syrian towns. He said that about 50 Syrian doctors have been arrested and killed since the uprising began. There were signs of torture on their bodies when they were returned to their families, he said.

Much of the humanitarian aid in Reyhanli is backed by donations from affluent Syrian expatriates. A small hospital, for example, is funded by the owner of Orient TV — a prominent Syrian opposition figure whose network broadcasts from Dubai.

There is bitterness that more international aid has not been forthcoming. "We understand not providing weapons," said Yasser Said, a Syrian lawyer who manages an 80-bed rehabilitation center in the town. "But why not medical supplies?"

Hussein al-Mustafa, a surgeon who said he fled the northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo to avoid arrest for helping protesters, ticked off some of the needs. One rehabilitation center secured an X-ray machine, but it was so old that doctors could not find film for it. The center cannot afford Clexane, a medicine that stops blood from forming potentially life-threatening clots. There are far too few wheelchairs and just a week's supply of the painkiller Gabapentin for the 25 patients who need it.

In a room painted a milky green, 12-year-old Salah Hussein Gayari lay in a bed, with two metal fragments lodged in his spine and another in his blinded right eye. He is paralyzed below the waist.

Salah, who has soccer in his soul and wants to be a doctor when he grows up, said he was heading to the market in his village of Abu Dhour, near Idlib, when an artillery shell fell nearby. Neighbors drove him to Turkey to be operated on.

Two older brothers fighting with the rebel forces left to keep watch over him. Doctors told them that Salah needs more specialized care to remove the remaining metal from his body. "Can you take him somewhere out of the country?" the brother asked a visitor.

Yazji said he will move his organization's headquarters to the hospital at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing as soon as it opens. He believes that the Assad regime will collapse within weeks, not months, and has told his wife that the next time they meet will be in Syria.

Wassim Taha, head of the Syrian Organization for Refugees, thinks it will take much longer. But he, too, is planning for the future. Operating out of an apartment office equipped with two laptops and a desk, his focus has shifted from coordinating aid to building institutions.

More than 30 civilian councils have been formed in northern Syria that can distribute funds and other help, Taha said. He is trying to get lawyers to establish civil courts and is seeking money to pay the salaries of lawyers, judges and police officers. Taha said that several European governments have provided financial backing for the building of civil institutions but that the U.S. government has not.

"If it takes a long time, the extremists will take over," said Taha, a former fashion designer who was involved in opposition politics for many years. "It will destroy Syria."

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone