Turkish photographer Bülent Kiliç last week captured some of the most striking photos yet to emerge from war-torn Syria, with a collection of images that reveal the desperation of those trying to flee the fighting.
Taken over a few days between Wednesday, June 10 and Monday, June 15, the series of photos shows huge crowds of Syrian refugees trying to cross the border near the Turkish town of Akçakale.
The men, women and children – some mere infants – were fleeing the fighting between the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group and Kurdish forces in the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad, which was captured by IS fighters in January 2014.
Thousands of Syrians trying to escape the fighting between the Islamic State group and Kurdish forces in the border town of Tel Abyad gather at the crossing point into Turkey. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
On Wednesday, June 10 the Turkish authorities closed the border, fearing a massive influx of refugees. Some 1.8 million Syrians have already taken refuge in neighbouring Turkey. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
Despite the closure, the refugees managed to cut a hole in the fence and began making their way across the border on Sunday, June 14. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
The Tel Abyad refugees force their way through the fencing and barbed wire, many carrying young children with them. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
“At first there was a narrow hole just large enough for one person to pass. They were pushing each other – five, 10 people – trying desperately to pass into Turkey through this tiny passage,” says photographer Bülent Kiliç. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
Some climbed the fence while others tried to pass young children over the top. “Everything happened in five minutes. It was like a Hollywood film – a big movie production, you can’t imagine,” says Kiliç. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
“Once on the Turkish side, the Syrians then ran up against the border trenches. Dozens managed to scramble over, and authorities eventually helped the others to cross,” says Kiliç. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
“I could not find time to speak with the refugees, but I could see the fear in their eyes. They were shouting, pushing to get to safety,” the photographer wrote on his blog. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
The Turkish authorities initially attempted to clear the refugees from the area around the border by using water cannon. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
Refugees waiting on the Syrian side of the crossing implore the Turkish authorities to give them water. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
Syrians wait in the extreme heat to enter Turkey. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
A key transit point for jihadists travelling from Turkey to Syria, Tel Abyad in Syria’s Raqqa province is considered strategically important. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
On Saturday, June 13, Islamic State group fighters suddenly appear at the border crossing, just metres from Turkish territory. They order the refugees to return to Tel Abyad. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
“[W]e saw a group of IS fighters – seven or eight of them – turn up … They could see us taking pictures – and they made jokes and big gestures,” said Kiliç. © Bülent Kiliç, AFP
The dramatic scenes were triggered when Turkish authorities, fearful of being overwhelmed by a massive influx of refugees, closed the Akçakale border crossing at midday on Monday.
As the days passed, the crowd of Syrians waiting at the border began to swell, the refugees waiting without water and under the blazing sun for a chance to make it to Turkey and safety.
“Things started to take a dramatic turn on Saturday, June 13,” writes Kiliç in a post on his blog. “We were driving near the border searching for refugees, when we heard that a lot of people had appeared near the crossing.
“We headed there to see a huge crowd massing in a field in the scorching heat – with Turkish forces using water jets and firing shots in the air to keep them from the fence.”
Unusually, a number of IS group fighters could be spotted among the refugees, says Kiliç, just a few metres from the Turkish soldiers guarding the crossing. They were there to force the Syrians to return to Tel Abyad.
But the refugees returned in force the next day and, no longer willing to wait for the Turkish authorities to reopen the crossing, took matters into their own hands.
After cutting a hole in the fence, they began squeezing through, first in small groups and then, as the fence gave way, in their hundreds – parents carefully passing their children over the broken fencing and barbed wire.
Even for a seasoned photojournalist like Kiliç, the scenes were startling.
"I have been photographing refugees on the Syria-Turkey border for nearly four years now,” he writes on his blog. “I saw the refugee crisis in Kobane. But yesterday was different. I have never seen anything like it before.”
There was little the Turkish soldiers could do to stem the tide, said Kiliç.
"[W]hen 2,000 people come flooding over the fence there are no rules anymore,” he writes.
The refugees will now join the more than 1.8 million others who have already made the crossing into Turkey, the principal destination of those fleeing the country’s civil war.
Date created : 2015-06-16