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Bab El-Hawa, Turkey -
The car slowed suddenly. Hidden in a rocky pit along the road, two men climbed up and jumped on board before the car took off swiftly towards Reyhanli, a city in southeastern Turkey bordering strife-hit Syria.
For the two Syrians, their journey out of their homeland is almost at an end.
Soon they will get out and walk across the border through one of the numerous holes dotted along the grills that separate Syria from Turkey.
Dressed in a dirty white T-shirt and with a steely blue glance, Abu Hamza “is on a mission” for the rebellion.
His fellow passenger, Abu Mohammed, a timid man in his fifties who was gripping on tightly to his plastic bag, is to find his wife and two children in a refugee camp.
Both come from a village 35 kilometres (22 miles) from north-east Syria's Idleb and had travelled about a day to get to the border.
There are no soldiers in the border watchtowers. Neither is anyone patrolling on the horizon. Surveillance is apparently pretty lax.
The two refugees quickly exchanged a few words with their driver, noted a contact, before disappearing into the morning buzz of the Turkish city.
Like them, dozens of Syrians are crossing the border illegally at Reyhanli daily, fleeing their homeland where according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights more than 25,000 people have been killed in the 17-month-long revolt against President Bashar Al-Assad's rule.
Officially, Turkey is hosting over 80,000 refugees in nine camps set up along the border. But the real number of refugees is undoubtedly much higher.
“The majority of Syrians in the region are illegals,” said Talal Abdullah, a former member of the opposition Syrian National Council, who is based in Antioch, the main city of Turkey's Hatay province.
“At least 2,000 Syrian families have moved into the city of Antioch itself,” said Abdullah, who noted that the cohabitation has so far not created any major problems.
But debate is now raging in Ankara over the influx of Syrian exiles.
The Turkish government has said it could handle no more than 100,000 Syrian refugees and proposed setting up a UN buffer zone inside Syria to shelter them.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday Ankara is in talks with the United Nations on the issue, and expects the world body to take concrete steps.
Many who have crossed illegally into Turkey are wondering whether they would soon be forced to register with authorities and live in camps.
But so far, they have managed to find shelter with relatives or friends.
In one Reyhanli apartment located just two steps from the central square, about 30 Syrians have been given shelter.
They are mainly the wounded who are in convalescence or who are awaiting transfer to the hospital. There are also three army deserters. Hidden from the public view by a white plastic sheet, the apartment's terrace serves as a teahouse.
“The cohabitation with the Turkish neighbours is going well. The point is to remain discreet,” said Hassan, a former lieutenant in Assad's army.
There are at least four apartments of the same type in Reyhanli, including one reserved for women. “Local authorities are aware of our situation,” added the former soldier.
“Overall, the Turkish government has shown great tolerance and are cooperative,” said Obada al-Abrash from an association of Syrian doctors called Dar al-Isteshfa, which manages a large convalescence centre in the suburb of Reyhanli.
Over 100 war wounded are recovering in the centre at the moment. Many were transported by Turkish ambulances upon their arrival from Syria, then operated in Turkish hospitals before being taken to the centre for their convalescence.
“The Turkish authorities close their eyes on many things,” said a resident of Atme, a Syrian border village.
For the moment, “Ankara is on our side,” he said. - Sapa-AFP