BAB AL-SALAMEH, Syria – Pregnant with twins, Fatima Abdallah survived shelling, hid under relatives' beds and went without food during a treacherous weekslong trip across the Syrian border.
Safely in a Turkish hospital, she gave birth to a healthy boy and a girl. But after just two nights, she was sent right back, the victim of the overwhelmed country's ban of new refugee arrivals until more camps can be built.
Abdallah, 29, brushed away the flies in a cramped, 10-foot concrete shed near the border crossing, where at least 5,000 other refugees waited to cross into a safer haven from Syria's 18 months of violence. She held her 4-day-old son son, Ahmed, as he furiously sucked away on his pacifier, while her daughter Bayan slept, eyes tightly closed, in pink and blue fuzzy blankets.
"I want a clean house," she said softly, gesturing at the mud-tracked concrete floor. "Just a safe home for them, it's just not clean here."
Her plight is part of the poignant ordeal of at least 5,000 refugees stranded with little food and unsanitary conditions at the Bab Al-Salameh crossing, camped in immense sheds where trucks carrying cargo were once inspected. Ailing refugees wait outside, some stretched out on cots, to be treated by doctors for diabetes and food poisoning. A baby whose family fled the city of Aleppo weeks ago sleeps in a car seat, surrounded by mosquito netting.
The refugees are stranded here on the border because of Turkey's decision two weeks ago to ban new arrivals into the country until it can construct new refugee camps. The country has already taken in some 80,000 Syrians and will let women in like Abdallah, but only to give birth.
"We send delivery cases to Turkey, but the problem is that after they give birth, they are sent back on the same day or the next," said Dr. Necmi, a Turkish doctor working at a small clinic on the border run by a Turkish aid organization that also provides cooked meals to the refugees. He declined to give his surname.
"There is no healthy place here for these women to be comfortable," he said.
The United Nations estimates that there 1.2 million people displaced inside of Syria — half of them children — and nowhere is that more apparent than in Bab al-Salameh which seems overrun by children of all ages, some even as young as the 4-day-old twins.
Abdallah and her twins are actually more comfortable than most in their small room. Around them, thousands of others sleep in the open, spreading plastic mats on the concrete at the mercy of the insects and the elements, their few possessions spread around them.
"A lot of the children have skin infections, from the flies, mosquitoes and other insects," added the doctor. "They scratch the bites and the skin becomes inflamed. I've never seen anything like it."
He added that without fresh water and clean conditions, most of the children suffer from diarrhea. Refugees blamed the donated food and milk that is spoiled for making people sick.
Every few hours, a tractor pulls up to the huge sheds towing a water tank; families rush to fill their bottles and cans for drinking and washing.
Bathroom facilities are also limited and crowded; many of the men say they go into the nearby fields relieve themselves, which has only increased the swarms of flies across the camp.
The displaced would live in better conditions in nearby farming villages, except that every night, the Syrian regime's air force seems to target a different village, often just dropping one or two bombs, but enough to demolish a house and those inside. Activists say at least 23,000 people have been killed during the 18-month uprising between rebels and President Bashar Assad's regime.
The seeming randomness of the attacks, such as those heard nightly from the camps in the nearby town of Azaz, has the displaced yearning to cross into Turkey for the safety of the official camps.
"Last night there was shelling in Azaz and it scared her," said Abdallah's brother, Hussein Abdallah.
"How can she produce milk? She's afraid."
Fears that the twins won't have any breast milk to drink have sent Abdallah's husband out scouring the countryside for baby formula, he said.
"It was very difficult, the pregnancy was difficult, the delivery, everything was difficult," recalled Abdallah in a soft voice.
Their flight began in mid-July, the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when heavy fighting came to their Aleppo neighborhood of Myasar.
Surrounded by shelling, no bread and closed shops, they eventually made it to the town of Marea, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away, where they stayed with relatives.
"We hid in their homes, sometimes under the bed, out of fear of the planes," she said. Abdallah kept up her daylong fast through the month of Ramadan, despite her pregnancy. When the bombings of the villages started after Ramadan, the family decided to make for the border and join the thousands waiting to get across.
Abdallah said she wants to be anywhere else but on the wrong side of the border.
But in Turkey, she fears, "we would have to pay a lot of money and we don't have any money."