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The war in Syria started nearly seven years ago, and there are now millions of refugees from that war living in neighboring countries. Turkey, for example, estimates it is hosting more than 3 million Syrians. NPR's Peter Kenyon recently met some refugees outside the Syrian consulate in Istanbul, and they told him what life is like for them right now.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Until just a few years ago, many Istanbul residents would have had no idea where the Syrian consulate is located. But these days, the small set of offices in a nondescript building in a well-to-do neighborhood is all too obvious thanks to the long line of Syrians clogging the sidewalk outside, clutching their paperwork and shivering in the chilly autumn wind.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Arabic).
KENYON: Some of them fled the violence that leveled parts of Aleppo or the relentless clashes in Eastern Damascus, seeking only immediate relief and safety. But now years have passed, and they find themselves living new lives they never sought, raising children born outside Syria and confronting unexpected obstacles in getting basic help from their government.
AMER: (Speaking Arabic).
KENYON: Like most of the Syrians interviewed for this story, 34-year-old Amer gives only his first name, worried about retaliation against his family. Amer's here to get a passport for his 1-year-old daughter, but he found it wasn't simple. He says, have to pay just to get a few minutes with a consular official.
AMER: (Through interpreter) First of all, if you don't bribe someone, you can't get an appointment. They make things more complicated for you, so you would bribe more so they get things done for you. People pay $350, $400 dollars just to get an appointment.
KENYON: Then it's another $400 to get a passport. And if you need it right away, the price goes up to 800, says Amer. Badriye, a 21-year-old woman from Aleppo, overhears Amer and nods in agreement, adding that even paying for an appointment doesn't guarantee anything.
BADRIYE: (Through interpreter) And just because you get an appointment doesn't mean you'll get in. Mine is for 11:30, but I'll be lucky to get in this afternoon. I paid $375 for someone to get me this appointment, and now all I can do is hope it works.
KENYON: And what if the consulate decides you're an opponent of President Bashar al-Assad? One Syrian activist says then things get even more difficult. Adnan Hadad describes himself as a Syrian media activist and says when he saw his passport was going to run out this fall, he stood in line and managed to get in to see a consulate staff member. He says the man was all smiles at first until he saw that Hadad had passed through the border at a crossing not controlled by the regime.
ADNAN HADAD: Once he saw that, his face changed. He became this very this anxious, extremely national person - was like, why do you have illegal stamps on your passport? These are illegal stamps. I'm like, OK, just hold on. I'm from Aleppo, as you can see from my details. And the only way I could cross was through this border gate. I mean, it's not my problem that you guys don't have control over this. And as soon as I said this word, he was completely furious.
KENYON: Hadad says they wanted him to fill out a form describing everyone he'd met with and other information he refused to disclose. Months of uncertainty followed. He was living at the time down near the Syrian border, so he was forced to take several 17-hour bus rides to and from Istanbul, finding a middle man he could pay to arrange another consular appointment. He found one, he says, and kept paying.
HADAD: I ended up paying $2,500 between the consulate, between this guy and between the appointments that I made, not to mention probably the few hundred dollars that I paid to just travel back and forth.
KENYON: In Syria, momentum appears to be on the side of the Assad Regime and its Russian and Iranian allies. That's not giving Syrians stuck in Turkey any confidence that it will soon be safe to return home. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.
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