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As fog descends, a call is made to a mobile phone across the river, then the light signal comes. A car pulls up on the opposite side of a river there.

Sixteen men come across in four relays of a sagging rowboat with an oar made from a wooden sign.

“It’s more dangerous at night,” said Abu Jaffar, the nom de guerre of a human smuggler at the Syrian-Turkish border. “The snipers are nervy. If they hear anything, they will open fire.”

Some of the men, ranging in age from 20 to 35, have walked almost all the way from Hama — about 48 miles to the south — in about four days.

They travel in ones and twos, making contacts in villages but sleeping mostly outside in the mountains or in the countryside so as not to endanger the locals.

Three of the men are defectors from Syria’s army. “We need to regroup and get weapons,” one said over the sound of artillery in the distance. “I’ll be the first back across this river.”

Two days later, four extended families came across the same way, including 40 children, the eldest 13 years old. They were taken to a spartan second-floor apartment in a northern suburb of Antakya, Turkey, a property owned by an elderly Turkish businessman.

“Crossing is getting harder and more dangerous,” said Mr. Jaffar. “But it’s never impossible. Assad cannot control the entire border with the forces he has.”

For a taste of freedom

At least 30,000 Syrians have fled the escalating violence at home, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency, the majority of them to Turkey.

Samer, 40, who asked that his last name be withheld, brought his wife and four children across from the border town of Darkush via a boat crossing last week.

Samer goes back and forth between Syria and Turkey to videotape protests using miniature cameras in pens and buttons.

He said it’s too dangerous for his children in Syria. “The soldiers took a 15-year-old boy hostage and demanded the father hand himself in,” he said. “I can’t take the risk of them doing that to my children.”

His wife, Sahar, weeps over the parents she left behind. “They were too old to make the journey.”

Since the beginning of the uprising a year ago, more than 8,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the United Nations. The violence and its aftershocks only seem to be intensifying, locals say.

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