Diplomatic options fade in Syria, as refugees pile up

syria, refugees, camp
Refugees in an impromptu camp near the Turkish border in northern Syria
CBS News

(CBS News) INSIDE SYRIA, NEAR THE BORDER WITH TURKEY -- The head of the United Nations, Nan Ki-Moon said Tuesday he doesn't believe Syria's civil war can be settled through diplomacy. Russia -- one of the few countries still friendly with the Assad dictatorship -- has begun evacuating its citizens.

The U.N. says about 60,000 Syrians are dead, and 650,000 Syrians have fled the country, most to neighboring countries like Turkey.

Many others are desperate to leave, but cannot.

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Less than a mile from the Turkish border, some Syrians are stuck in no man's land, unable to go back to the bombed-out villages they fled, and unable to cross into Turkey where the refugee camps are already full.

For now, an impromptu refugee camp is home.

Yakzan Shishakly
Yakzan Shishakly CBS News

"We have 90 (bathrooms) and that's an improvement. Before that we had like five or 10," said Yakzan Shishakly, a Syrian-American who owns an air conditioning business in Houston, Texas.

Those 90 bathrooms are for roughly 12,000 people.

Shishakly came to Syria four months ago to visit, and found hundreds of people sleeping in an olive grove. He decided to stay and help. He built what is now the largest camp in Syria, relying mostly on private donations.

"We don't have funding; that's the biggest challenge," Shishakly said. "We have nothing. Do we need food? Yes. Do we need the winter clothes? Yes, we do. Do we need (a) clinic and more doctors? Of course, definitely we do."

Daily life is mostly spent fending off the cold. There is no electricity, no heat and no running water. Few international aid workers dare to travel to Syria to help.

Fatima and her family of seven fled the bombing in Aleppo three months ago.

She says there is not enough to eat -- there's only rice and potatoes.

Shishakly is hard at work on a new kitchen. He also wants to build a school with an actual roof. But for now he struggles to get the children proper winter shoes.

The conditions in the camp are harsh, especially in the winter cold. But this might be one the safest places in Syria right now, which is why hundreds of families from across the country continue to flock here, and why this camp just keeps growing bigger.

"We cannot say no," Shishakly said. "It's not like we have a gate and we close it in the night. I mean, people come with the hope to stay here and we cannot turn them down and say no. So we're open for everybody. They come with the hope and we are their hope."

The Turkish government is building another camp that can take up to 3,000 refugees, but that is not much comfort to the more than 40,000 Syrians who are stranded along its border.

For information on how to help, visit the Maram Foundation's website.

  • Clarissa Ward
    Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News