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As the dream of Europe fades, Syrians try to figure out life in Turkey

As the EU closes its doors to migrants, Syrian refugees are having second thoughts about risking the trip to Greece. But they are finding it hard to start new lives in Turkey. Anna Lekas Miller reports from Izmir.

Amira looks exhausted, as she stands outside of a local government office in Izmir, in the baking sun.

"I couldn't travel with my husband, because I didn't have the money," she says. "Now the borders are closed, and the sea route is closed, and there is just no way that we can join him."

Now Amira and her four children are outside of a local government office, waiting to register as refugees so that they can be legal in Turkey, and access social services such as healthcare and education. However, according to her - and the 50 other refugees waiting outside with her - registering, and eventually getting papers, has been almost impossible.

"If you are marrying a Turkish person, you get an iqama (an Arabic word for identification card) in two minutes," she continues. "But for us Syrians, it is a different story."

With her husband in Germany and few work opportunities for Syrians without papers, Amira's family is struggling. Her two sons, one 13 years old and the other 17, occasionally find odd jobs in local textile factories, earning around 500 lira - 200 euros - for the month. However, monthly expenses in her poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Izmir are far more than this meager amount, especially for the family of five.

"For me and my daughters, we just stay at home," she continues. "We sleep and sleep and are depressed with nothing to do."

Basmane Square

Basmane Square, where many Syrians once waited for smugglers, is now almost empty

Her 20-year-old daughter, Nadia, was studying to be an engineer in Aleppo, but the war interrupted her studies during her first year of university. Though she is hoping to continue her education someday, she's hoping most of all to see her father and reunite the family.

"I miss him, we talk with him on WhatsApp everyday," she says, her arm wrapped around her mother, as they wait to be given appointments.

"Once there is a way, we will go. Of course we will go."

'It's crazy to try to go right now'

Even though "peak season" for smugglers working the route to Greece is just beginning, with sunnier weather and calmer seas, many refugees like Amira and her family are feeling apprehensive about the recent border closures along the main Balkan route and have reconsidered or postponed their trips.

Business in Basmane Square - once known as "Little Syria" for the number of Syrians who gathered in front of the mosque as they waited to make contact with smugglers and bought life vests and waterproof containers for the sea journey - has slowed significantly ever since the Macedonian border crossing closed and local police began cracking down on the smugglers operating in Izmir.

"I used to sell 100 life jackets a day, last year," says Hossam Ali, a local Syrian salesman working at a clothing shop once known for its elaborate display of life jackets and flotation devices outside Basmane Square.

"I haven't sold a single jacket in two weeks," he continues. "It's crazy to try to go right now."

A street of shops in Izmir

Stores that once sold rubber boats are now empty

Ali isn't the only one whose business is suffering. Shops that once sold rubber boats and inner tubes - largely marketed towards smugglers or refugees looking to make the crossing themselves - are now shuttered, despite the summer recreation season approaching.

Life for Syrians in Turkey isn't getting any easier

Although the EU-Turkey deal hasn't completely deterred refugees from making the crossing to Greece - the day the deal was implemented there were more new migrants landing on the Greek islands than migrants deported - it has nevertheless choked one of the key escape routes for Syrians and other migrants looking to start a new life away from the chaos of conflict.

"We have been waiting for some kind of way to register and be people since we have been here," says Mustafa, a 35-year-old from Aleppo who has been in Turkey for the past three years.

"Now we can't even go to Europe!"

When asked what he plans to do next, he throws his hands in the air, laughing.

"Who knows? Maybe we'll swim!"

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