KARACA, Turkey: The stone house has just two rooms but is now home to five Syrian families who fled the besieged town of Kobani to the relative safety of Turkey just a few kilometers away.
The Turkish village of Karaca is just 50 meters from the border. But for the families taking refuge there it is the difference between peace and war as Islamic State fighters seek to take their hometown from Syrian Kurds in a battle that has now raged for over a month.
Between a field and the front yard of the house in Karaca, there is a narrow street. At the end of it a Turkish flag flies and behind that looms Kobani itself.
There is no gate, only a Turkish police post straddling the border.
The Syrian Kurdish families crammed into the house all have different stories of how they arrived in Turkey, with some risking a perilous journey through a minefield on the border.
Their reward is relative safety but squalid conditions, with just one toilet for all to share and nights spent packed together on the floor.
“How long can we survive in this situation? At nights, we are packed like sardines in this room in order to sleep,” said an elderly woman, Sebah Temo, there with her seven children.
Next to the house is a pit two meters in depth, covered with concrete, that functions as a sewer system since the village appears to be lacking one.
The families are all united by one single wish—to go back to their own lives, and their beloved homes.
Many of the refugees in the house crossed into Turkey having waited for days on the border—in the hope of seeing the Turkish army allowing them safe passage across the frontier, or expecting the IS extremists to leave their town.
“I waited on the border for 17-18 days,” said Sevket Hesin, who fled to Turkey five days ago along with his wife and his two-month baby.
“It was raining. My baby was going to be sick. I took the risk. I crossed the barbed wire illegally. I could have been arrested but God willing, I did not and we made our way to Turkey,” he said.
The journey is often pitted with dangers, whether from mines or involving smugglers who offer to take Syrians to a safe-haven in Turkey.
“It is dangerous. One of my neighbors walked into a minefield by mistake and he was injured. His legs were cut,” said Hesin.
But he added: “This risk is nothing compared to ISIS,” using an alternative name for the militant group.
‘How long can we survive?’
Fierce clashes between Kurdish fighters and IS insurgents have been raging for a month and around 200,000 people, mainly Syrian Kurds, from the Kobani region have fled to Turkey.
In this border village, they are safe but they endure miserable living conditions with limited assistance. There is one bathroom—which serves as both washroom and latrine for 30 people.
Speaking through tears, Sebah Temo gazed up at a roof where bags of aid assistance from nearby Turkish villages were piled.
“I am trying to make my heart and my mind survive this dire situation,” she said. “Even in my dreams, I would never have thought we would go through this.”
50-year-old Sabiha, living in the house with her 12 children, longs for her own house in Kobani.
“We used to have a beautiful house: It was our property, our soil. We have nothing here,” she said.
“This is not our house. We are temporarily here. We could be forced to leave any moment,” she added. “To return home is my only hope. What else could I ask?”
In the meantime, she says, the only option is to soldier on.
“We wake up in the morning and we bake a lot of bread because now we are a big family.”