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Syrian refugees living 'half lives' as the 'guests' of Gaziantep

Of all the perilous journeys made by Syrian refugees over the last five years, the people from Aleppo who now live in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep had perhaps the easiest. Certainly the shortest.

Gaziantep is not much more than an hour's drive from Aleppo, and there are historic trade and social links between the two cities. This was a natural place to seek shelter from the war.

Around 300,000 Aleppans have done just that. Many live in half-built apartment blocks in the northern suburb of Basra. There are no 'mod-cons'. The living spaces are the voids between the concrete walls. 'Rooms' are created with plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling.

Syrian refugees live in 'rooms' created with plastic sheets in half-built apartment blocks. Credit: Reuters

Of course, life is very tough here. Turkey has provided a refuge for around three million Syrians, but little else.

The government refers to them as 'guests'. They live on charity. They have no official legal status so it is near impossible to find work that isn’t in the black economy, and there are no school places for the children.

Geraint Vincent speaks to a grandmother who is looking after her nine grandchildren. Credit: ITV News

Still, they are alive, and safe from the bombs which continue to fall on the neighbourhoods which used to be their home.

They watch the 24-hour news stations for news from Aleppo of the latest atrocity, and wait in agony for the next message from the relatives and friends they left behind.

I have met and spent time with Syrian refugees in lots of different situations. In a muddy, rain-soddened camp in Lebanon, walking through a sun-baked Balkan field, or washed up on the shores of a Greek island.

The discomforts vary, but all of them share a profound sense of uncertainty.

Refugees have lost one home and not yet found another. Credit: ITV News

In stable societies, we find ways of coping with the random cruelties that life can sometimes bestow.

We get steady jobs, and we pay taxes which pay for emergency healthcare and street lights. We get mortgages, and insurance policies. We are allowed to make plans. Life feels much better when you have a plan.

Refugees have none of these securities. The Aleppans I met in Gaziantep were better off than others I had met elsewhere, but they had the same look in their eyes - just a few moments away from panic.

The grandmother who lost three sons in the bombing of her city, but who is distracted in her grief by the question of how she will care for their nine children. The engineering graduate who has no idea how he will ever get a job, and lives with a crippling sense of shame that he didn’t stay to fight to defend his city.

They are the people who have lost one home, and have not yet found another. There is a price to pay for safety, and it is paid in the mind.