Just a fence away: getting aid to Syria from Turkey

Trucks with humanitarian assistance wait at the border with Syrian in Turkey.

Trucks bearing humanitarian assistance wait to cross the border at Nusaybin, Turkey on March 22, 2014. As part of a United Nations humanitarian convoy, UNICEF is sending five trucks to Syria. The assistance will be distributed to 50,000 people in need including 25,000 children. ©UNICEF/2014/Kamuran Feyzioglu

The drive to the border town of Mardin in southeast Turkey was long. We reached the town in the evening, a sleepy border town that has become a centre of attention in the past few days.
Humanitarian aid to Syria was going in from Turkey for the first time ever since a brutal civil war began more than three years ago.

We drove to the border crossing the following morning where I met the unsung heroes of UNICEF. Colleagues who have been, for the past days, busy uploading supplies on 17 huge trucks. Five of these trucks bear supplies from UNICEF; boxes and boxes full of essentials such as towels, shampoo, sanitary napkins, baby rash cream, toothpaste, soap bars, tooth brushes, buckets for water, and washing powder.

Sounds basic? Well not if you are an internally displaced person who ran away for safety and refuge sometimes with only the clothes on your body. This assistance can be lifesaving.

The convoy’s destination was Qamishli in north east Syria. It will provide aid to 25,000 children in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

UNICEF staff meet at the two sides of the fence on the Syrian Turkish border during the delivery of aid supplies through the Nusaybin crossing, March 2014. ©UNICEF/2014/Kamuran Feyzioglu

UNICEF staff meet at the two sides of the fence on Syrian Turkish border during the delivery of aid supplies through the Nusaybin crossing.
©UNICEF/2014/Kamuran Feyzioglu

The trucks pass through a small gate onto the Syrian side of the border.  © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0307/KAMURAN FEYZIOGLU

The trucks pass through a small gate onto the Syrian side of the border. ©UNICEF/2014/Kamuran Feyzioglu

A few hours after we arrived, we got the green light from the Syrian authorities to start moving the trucks into Syria. UNICEF trucks slowly drove through a small metal gate. I walked behind them on a dirt road in the middle of green fields thinking to myself how beautiful the scenery was and that in normal days before the war people would be having picnics rather than waiting patiently for an aid convoy…

How times have changed for Syrians.

I reached a metal fence when my phone rang. It was my colleague El-Tayeb. He was calling from just across the fence on the Syria side. I continued walking while waving to him. El-Tayeb and I had never met before but for the last few days we were constantly on the phone coordinating and planning for this convoy.

The trucks stopped just in front of a closed fenced gate. The Syrian flag was standing alongside the Turkish and then, just as if someone called “open-sesame”, the gate suddenly opened and in went the trucks.

I could not go in as I did not have a visa to Syria. So there I stood talking to El-Tayeb through the fence and thinking to myself how close yet so far he was, how easy yet so difficult it was to coordinate and plan for this convoy.

It was only a fence that separated humanitarian assistance from reaching children in need in Syria. Humanitarian assistance should be much simpler; the children of Syria need more convoys like the one we had today. Access to areas we could not access for long months should be facilitated. We have about one million children living under siege and in areas that are hard to reach inside Syria. They suffered way too much and we need to reach them with aid.

Tomorrow, we are sending more trucks with aid. It is the least we can do!

Juliette Touma is a Communications & Media Specialist with the UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa, reporting from the Nusaybin border crossing in Turkey.

1 reply

  1. Bravo to all the team coordinating this and hopefully the start of many more aid convoys in the future …

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