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People in Turkey and Syria sleep in tents — afraid their homes could collapse

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now we turn to Syria and Turkey, where the earth is still quaking with frequent aftershocks since that original earthquake. Many people there sleep in tents, even if their walls are still standing because they're afraid their homes could collapse. NPR's Daniel Estrin met some of those survivors in southern Turkey.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Eight families with eight tents sit in the shadow of apartment buildings in the center of Gaziantep. They're Syrian war refugees who built their lives here for a decade. Mustafa Qader invites us to peek into his tent.

MUSTAFA QADER: (Through interpreter) We stay here. Seven people - me, my wife and our five children. (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: This is fabric from a carpet. This is from a carpet seller. And gave him these long strips of fabric that they've tied together to jerry rig this tiny tent made of blue tarp and duvet covers...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: ...And a little furnace in the middle that comes up with a chimney, and they've cut a little hole at the top.

Turkey says more than 40,000 buildings are at risk of collapse and must be demolished, making Turkey's sudden homelessness crisis even more profound. Qader's home is still standing but cracked enough to make them worry how it'll hold up. There have been daily aftershocks.

QADER: (Through interpreter) I just packed everything yesterday, thinking that we would go back to the house. I packed all my stuff. And then the children said, I'm scared to go back to the house. So we just unpacked everything, and we're still here.

EMINE: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: His 10-year-old daughter Emine says, "I don't like it here. Look at my face. Look at my hands." They're cracked from the winter cold. These families fled Syria's civil war and settled in Turkey. They never imagined they'd have to escape their home again. There's some hostility to Syrian war refugees here. A Turkish passerby asks why we're focusing on these families scrounging by when there are organized government camps helping those who actually lost their homes. These families want to camp out close to their homes where they can use the bathroom. I watch another Syrian man sweeping outside his tent. He calls me over.

This man, Yusef Naasan - he called me over, and he said, come film me. Come take a picture of me cleaning up. The Turks say that we Syrians are dirty, but we're not. Our kids are around here. They're playing around here. We have to keep a clean place.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWEEPING)

ESTRIN: Besides sweeping up, Naasan is the camp guard. He wears a security guard jacket he found somewhere and stays awake all night. There are rumors of looters amid the rubble and a sense of desperation. He says the other day, his neighbor cried because someone stole diapers from his tent - diapers. I wondered if it was a family from another tent. It's amazing. All of these tents are all connected by the same - by, like, a spider web of string. Ramis Jessi from another tent says...

RAMIS JESSI: (Through interpreter) They're all connected. Otherwise, they would just, you know, fall down. When you tie them all together, it's going to be warmer inside the tents.

ESTRIN: Eight families connected by a web of string, hoping it won't be long before the aftershocks stop and they feel safe to go back home.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Gaziantep, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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