How Banned Foreign Journalists Are Covering Syrian Refugees

The Atlantic
How Banned Foreign Journalists Are Covering Syrian Refugees
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How Banned Foreign Journalists Are Covering Syrian Refugees

As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops, backed by tanks and helicopters, advance from the restive town of Jisr al-Shughour toward the northern town of Maarat al-Numaan, over 8,500 Syrians have fled across Syria's 520-mile border with Turkey to refugee camps, while thousands more who are weary of making the crossing have established camps on the Syrian side of the frontier, according to Reuters.

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The situation is dire, but also difficult to cover since journalists are banned from entering Syria. That's forcing reporters to be creative. CNN's Arwa Damon, for example, snuck into Syria today for a few hours. At a muddy campsite that had only trees for shelter, Damon spoke to people who said they'd witnessed "horrific" scenes in Jisr al-Shughour. In these videos, Damon discusses the unsanitary living conditions at the camp, explaining how the refugees are bathing, cooking, and even creating a makeshift pharmacy.

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Time's Rania Abouzeid also managed to sneak across the Turkish border on Tuesday "along steep mountainous terrain." At the outskirts of the Syrian town of Khirbet al-Jouz, she spoke to a brother and sister:

"Em Ahmad," a young woman in her early 20s, sat on a plastic mat, cradling her 2-month-old daughter Noreen near a plate with a handful of tomatoes and a plastic cup full of olives. Her family had spent a week outdoors after fleeing Jisr al-Shughour. "Would Assad like it if his children had to live like mine?" she asked ...

Ahmad's older brother Mohammad listened nearby. Despite the dire conditions they were in, he said his extended family feared crossing over into Turkey. "People are saying we might be targeted in Turkey, that Assad's men can still find us. Is that true?" he asked. "Should we go from one hiding place to another?"

The BBC's Jonathan Head, who can see the refugee camps in Syria from the Turkish village of Guvecci where he's stationed, explains that "no-one on this side of the border is supposed to go to the Syrian camp, but enterprising young men from Guvecci can show you a hidden route through the hills--for a price" (we imagine that might be the route Abouzeid took). He adds, however, that journalists don't need to cross the border since Syrians stream into Turkey every day to buy supply and mingle with relatives, only to return to the Syrian afterwards. Why straddle the border? They're scared to go home but don't want to become refugees in Turkey, Head explains. Here's a view from Guvecci into the camps in Syria, via Reuters:

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Many other reporters are interviewing refugees in Guvecci as well. Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, who's heard reports of "military helicopters hovering over Jisr al-Shughour" and "indiscriminate shooting" in the town, filed this video report. She explains that instead of entering Syria herself, she "gamely" smuggled a camera across the border to get a sense of what it was like there.

Finally, other outlets--like The New York Times and Reuters--are filing from Beirut, Lebanon and Amman, Jordan, respectively, but relying on contributors in Turkey to interview Syrian refugees and assess the situation on the border. 

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