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Running From the Guns

ATME, Syria, Aug 15 2012 (IPS) - As fighting rages on in Syria, thousands of civilians are fleeing the country with little more than their families and the clothes on their backs, seeking refuge on the Turkish-Syrian border.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that 59,710 Syrians have already crossed the border.

The border towns of Reyhanli, on the Turkish side, and Atme, in Syria, are now havens for an endless stream of wounded soldiers, defectors, or families desperate to escape the violence that has claimed 23,000 lives according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as the Free Syrian Army continues to do battle with forces still loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Those entering the two towns are injured, shell-shocked and often empty-handed, claiming they are on the run to escape heavy shelling in places like Taftanaz, a small village in the region of Idlib that has been under heavy fire from Syrian security forces, and al-Ansari, a neighbourhood in west Aleppo that has also been bombed into rubble.

“We had no food to give our children,” a woman from al-Ansari told IPS. “We had no choice but to leave.”

In Reyhanli, refugees find respite in the free medical services at the Reyhanli and Hatay public hospitals. Here, wounded opposition fighters use the relative calm to recuperate before returning to the front lines.

Atme, a village of 5,000 inhabitants, has become a sprawling and unofficial refugee camp.

Its only primary school has become the headquarters of the Free Syrian Army, with classrooms doubling up as sleeping facilities for the hundreds of children spilling across the border with their families.

“I decided to move here when my eight-year-old child saw a dead body in the street just next to our home,” a woman from Idlib told IPS. “He was terrified, and I had to ask myself, ‘who was this man and are we going to next?’” (END)

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