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Refugees 'make do' in foreign lands but stretch system to breaking point

A FADED sign indicates it once considered itself the top spot in Reyhanli to host your wedding reception, but it's fair to assume the two-storey building off Olgunlar St has seen better days.

Outside, a woman sits against the front wall, holding a coarse blanket above her toddler's face to shield her from the driving wind, as she talks to her two young nieces. You might easily class her as a beggar, and throw her some cash.

And even though she is, in fact, a civil servant like her husband, she might feel obliged to take it.

This 32-year-old woman has just spent the equivalent of six months' wages – about €1,500 – to buy her group's way illegally across the border from Syria and into Turkey.

It was far more than she expected to pay but you can't enter Turkey without a passport, and hers had lapsed. Re-applying wasn't an option for a number of reasons – chief among them being that the rebels last week decided the family home in the Sheikh Maksud area of Aleppo was strategically useful and turfed them out.

The family unit has swelled and reduced dramatically since March when she took in her two nieces after their mother was shot dead by a Syrian Army sniper, and later her newborn son died in a poorly-equipped hospital, from breathing difficulties.

"We knew then it was time to go, so we started packing," she explains, through a translator.

Seven suitcases, three canvas bags and a couple of plastic buckets are now laid out in a row beside her on the footpath, bulging with her family's possessions – from clothes and shoes to plates, ornaments and photographs.

She won't give her name. "It pays to be cautious, even from this distance (Turkey)," she says. "We won't go back as long as there is conflict but who knows what way it will end."

It is not chance that has her outside the former wedding venue.

Inside are 92 Syrian families living their daily lives – upwards of 600 people trying to secure floor space in a building that would struggle to hold 60 beds.

It is not an official refugee camp – but then this isn't a "typical" refugee crisis where people with little or nothing are forced from their homes.

Across the Middle East, largely middle-class Syrians are now "making do" in neighbouring countries as best they can through savings, donations and work, almost hidden from view as they mix with the locals – but simultaneously stretching economic and social structures to breaking point.

Reyhanli has seen its population more than double to 120,000 in two years – meaning there are more Syrians than natives.

Separately, there is an official refugee camp run by the Turkish government outside the town where another 35,000 Syrians live. Turkey has officially taken in 260,000 refugees. In reality hundreds of thousands more have crossed the border to safety.

It is a story repeated across the region.

Over the weekend, the United Nations gave its starkest warning yet that it will soon run out of cash to cope with the vast influx of Syrian refugees – now more than 1.7 million – into Jordan and other countries.

In Reyhanli, the civil servant had initially hoped to use some "border money" to rent a house. Now she looks instead to charity. But the official camp is full. And so is the former wedding venue.

And so she waits, and contemplates selling off her possessions.

Irish Independent