In April we went out on a special distribution trip to one particular Syrian refugee ad-hoc encampment. For two weeks on the hop, we had been unable to get to this small encampment that we have entitled “White House”.
We named it “White House” because the Syrian refugee field workers are encamped around the house of the gang-master. The gang-master is the individual who arranges the work force for those who need field workers. They also are responsible for providing a degree of provision for the Syrian refugee field workers; for example, at the very least, they arrange a place for them to pitch their shelters, and arrange transport for them to and from the work in the field and that they have access to a source of water. In this instance, the gang-master’s house is painted white and stands proud on the edge of a rise – hence the name, White House.
The White House encampment was on the list for distribution a fortnight previously, but, due to new registrations at previous encampments, we depleted our stock of food stuffs before we were able to get to the White House.
This happened the following week as well.
So, we determined to go out on a special trip to just that encampment.
According to the new conditions imposed upon us by the local district governor, as we passed through the town of Kırıkhan, we picked up our two ‘companions’ who accompany and observe us – our minders.
As we were driving towards the White House, along the simple roads between the fields, we passed an encampment where we had been just the previous Monday. It was immediately apparent that the overwhelming majority of the people were gone – just the scars on the ground giving poignant testimony to where their shelters had once been pitched.
Then, as we drew near to the White House, everyone in the van was commenting on a new encampment. It was on the left hand side of the van, but, driving as I was, I was looking at the road and immediately to my right a new shelter that had been erected caught my attention… hence I didn’t see this ‘new encampment’.
On arrival at the White House and realising my error, I walked back down to the bend in the road where I could see this new, rather sizeable encampment, dominating the top of a barren rise about a kilometre or so from the White House. This new encampment was towards the border from the White House. The White House is just under seven kilometres (as the crow flies) from the border and this new encampment, would be just under six kilometres distance.
Because, currently, there are not many refugees at the White House, we quickly processed the list and distributed the foodstuffs. We routinely load extra (as a hedge against the unexpected), and there was a new family to register. They were registered and provided with foodstuffs. When all was done and finished, we had but two bags of foodstuffs surplus to requirements. Not bad planning.
It was as we completing the distribution at the White House that one of our two ‘companions’ got my attention. He was the one who just a fortnight earlier was ‘offended’ because, in his view, we were ‘advertising’ that we were Christians and that he was very strongly of the opinion that this was ‘wrong’; this was the same chap who had complained and had the Gendarme (in charge of rural policing) called out to stop us. Now he came up to me with a query.
He earnestly inquired if we were planning to go to the new encampment just observed a kilometre off, with a view to assessing the needs there. He made this enquiry in such a manner and with the clear understanding that he felt that we should do just that.
I was not expecting that, especially from him, after all we unashamedly and unabashedly ‘advertise’ that we are ‘Christians’ and that the provisions are provided by ‘churches’.
In actual fact we were planning on going there to determine if they were Syrian refugees and from whence they had come and what their needs are.
Meanwhile, at the White House, the gang-master’s wife treated us to some powerfully strong Turkish coffee in the traditional demitasse cups… It gives you an almighty kick to carry on with. Our travelling ‘companions’ declined the coffee. After we had enjoyed the break, we climbed back into the van and headed out.
We hadn’t travelled fifty metres when the road before us was nigh unto blocked by two farm tractors thundering up the road (these roads are, er, not of a generous width). As I slowed and pulled as far to the right side of the road as I could safely go, E recognised the lead tractor driver and asked me to wait.
The first tractor shuddered to an abrupt, skidding halt which caused the following tractor to also hastily slam to a stop – it is a narrow road.
The lead tractor driver came up to our van. He had recognised us, and E had recognised him. He is one whom we have aided in the past, but he and his family had moved and we lost touch with them.
They were lost, but now they are found.
We felt that this was significant as he has a sweet wee daughter afflicted with Cerebral Palsy and his sister is in a struggling battle with cancer. We gave him the last of the food stuffs that we had and learned where he and his family are now abiding. We added them to the list for our normal distribution.
We then carried on to this ‘new’ encampment we had seen. It consists of about 25 + shelters, encamped on a slight, rather desolate rocky rise. The field where they are situated has not been ploughed – can not be easily ploughed because of the large rocks – and so it looks to be a drainable, dry site for the pitching of an encampment. There is no water, but, hey, isn’t that what water bowsers were created for?
We parked up and immediately the wee children began to materialise, and as they did so, we instantly recognised them.
It seems the encampment we had seen on our way to the White House, the one that appeared to be ‘almost abandoned’ has in fact moved, lock, stock and barrel to this new location. Those shelters that we did see in the old location, are actually erected and populated by new (unregistered) people who have taken over that location.
The gang-master for the encampment we were in, arrived and we ascertained the relevant details, and commissioned a name for this new encampment (there are trees nearby – across the road – so we are calling it ‘the Grove’). This established, we departed.
The following Monday, on our return to this area, and in the course of our planned distribution, we were directed to another new encampment. This encampment struck me as strange as it is divided into two distinct clusters, separated by about 150 metres or so.
Even in desperate conditions, mankind can display discrimination and petty rivalries and strife – they have all fled the same, most abhorrent violence, chaos and terror and are now living in primitive, deplorable circumstance, existing, literally hand to mouth, and yet they can still squabble and fight and shun one another.
Many of the people in this ‘new encampment’ had been previously registered at other locations – it turns out that, in like manner, these were people whom we had lost contact with.
They, too, are now found.
Once the registration was completed, we distributed the remainder of the food stuffs we had on the lorry (our ‘contingency’). We were restricted in what we could provide as our contingency was not sufficient to provide that which we would normally distribute which is according to the size of the families.
From this new encampment (we have identified as parts 1 & 2) we departed to meet a chap who had flagged us down on the road. He asked us to come and see the Syrian refugees living near his farmstead.
We agreed to meet him at the corner where he had flagged us down. From there we followed him to a new encampment situated just over three kilometres from the border. There, three long platforms had been carved out of the hillside to make flat surfaces for the shelters to be erected (hence not using up valuable field space). Apparently, he is the gang-master and lives, I presume, in the farm house nearby.
At this location, which we have christened “Border”, we encountered another 20 shelters (nearly 100 souls).
In this encampment there are many young babies, but, alas, we had no nappies left. We went to this encampment on the following Monday for our monthly distribution (with sufficient nappies).
Already, at the start of this season the number of encampments and individuals has increased. Consequently we have had to go from twice a month to three times a month for our distribution.
This is a significant increase in amount of work involved. For three months we had a group of Americans helping, and they have been doing the heavy lifting. Alas, they left at the end of April.
And now, what shall we do – what can we do – with our diminished numbers and limited strength…
When you see the innocents, the children, the babies, the young teenage girls and boys whose world has been wrenched and torn asunder – when you look at their ‘washrooms’ – a tarpaulin enclosed frame with some tarpaulin on the floor to ensure you are not standing in mud as they sponge bathe; or you examine the kitchen, often another tarpaulin enclosed structure with no chairs, tables, benches, cupboards, oh, and no cooker… ; or you look in the shelters and see some carpet on the floor, laid over the rough field surface, with precious little else in the shelter; living in barren and desolate fields with no means to prevent the ingress of all manner of creepy-crawly insects and a whole host of field creatures; when you consider the ‘toilet facilities’, one of the most basic of human requirements and see a tarpaulin enclosed square over a shallow hole in the ground at the edge of the encampments, no security or real privacy – this calls us to persevere – for as long as the opportunity and means exists, for at the end of the day, when I leave the fields behind me, I go to my home, close my real, substantial door, where I reside in security, with indoor plumbing, running water and nice hot food.