Syrian Refugees in Istanbul

Syrian Refugees in Istanbul

“Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, Turkey, estimated to host over 1.5 million Syrians, has maintained an emergency response of a consistently high standard and declared a temporary protection regime, ensuring nonrefoulement and assistance in 22 camps, where an estimated 217,000 people are staying. Turkey is currently constructing two additional camps.” As you can see, this still leaves many Syrians without shelter. Yes, Turkey as a country is doing well in its attempt to provide as much assistance to the Syrian refugees as possible. In spite of this, Turkish citizens are overwhelmed by the influx of people as they are staying longer than anticipated. There is incessant begging of homeless Syrians on the streets. Istanbul residents are concerned with exposure to disease as the refugees are camping in common areas and parks, oftentimes without a safe and hygienic means of sanitation and waste disposal. Another problem is that they are competing for jobs at a time when unemployment is at an all time high. Turkish citizens want to know how their country plans on dealing with this large immigrant population who more than likely will not ever return to their own country. The concern is that the brunt of care for refugees will ultimately fall on their financially insecure shoulders.
Unfortunately, this frustration is being directed personally towards the Syrian people stuck here in Turkey, which is not fair. They are only trying to survive, and will go wherever, and do anything, as would anyone in their position.
The Syrian refugees have had their homes bombed, and friends and family members murdered. They have not been able to grieve because they need to make ends meet, fast. They have moved from one disaster to protect their children from annihilation, only to be confronted with another disaster. The latter, not one of epic proportion, but gradually just as destructive. Moving to another country already heavily populated, with high unemployment numbers doesn’t leave much to build on, in the way of creating a sustainable livelihood for themselves and their families. “The University of Manchester via a collaboration with Generation Freedom, visited three refugee camps during the last two years to conduct focus groups with parents, and interview professionals involved in humanitarian support. Their research reveals that exposure to extreme violence and loss, followed by the disruption of leaving home with few or no possessions, and adapting to the new and often poor living conditions have left the children of this crisis extremely vulnerable to mental health problems.” These refugee children have limited access to standard medical care, much less psychiatric attention here in Turkey. I mention this to further illustrate the severity of their situation.
Labor is already inexpensive in Turkey, with a large percentage of the population uneducated, ready, and willing to perform manual labor. Turkey doesn’t have a labor vacuum, so there is no need for additional Syrian workers. Syrians initially thought the Turkish people would accept them as family, since they are citizens of a neighboring Muslim country. In reality, they were viewed from afar that way, but now that they are here, competing for resources, they are viewed with suspicion, and treated as a nuisance.
Nonetheless, it is inhumane to turn our backs to the refugees barely surviving on the street, and refuse to give them money, or things they might need that we could easily do without. People seem to be disproportionately concerned with being taken advantage of by the homeless on the street. They are disgusted by their uncleanliness and scavenger like eating habits. It must be very difficult to stay clean in a dirty city like Istanbul without a place to do your laundry, and without proper bathing facilities. The Syrian refugees surely did not eat from dumpsters and beg for money in the street back in their home country. They were probably rather poor already, but at least they had a roof over their heads, and most likely had beds, and family meals together at a table, however meager. Here in Turkey, they have nothing. They are attempting to camp in abandoned buildings and makeshift tents with very few supplies. These disheveled, sad looking individuals are not taking us for the proverbial ride.
Think about who really is taking advantage of us. We give away our money to banks in the form of interest rates and fees. We don’t worry about the mark up in retail stores for particular brands. Although Starbucks “consolidated net revenues increased 10% to a Q4 record $4.2 billion”, we still go there for overpriced coffee and tea.  It would basically cost us a lunch at a restaurant to feed and clothe a refugee family. (not a lunch from Marmaris Bufe though). That is a very cost effective meal.
I try to imagine what I would do. What would I look like if faced with the same horrific circumstances they are in the midst of. This type of situation would test the smartest, strongest, well equipped, and connected. How about the people who don’t have families and friends who can help, or are in a parallel situation themselves. Should people be punished, demeaned, and denied dignity for being unfortunate?


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Coffee. Beer. Climbing Tall Things.

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Can K. at 2:05 pm

    Everytime I am on the street I’m confronted by this misery. I do what I can, but the endless need is overwhelming I have to agree with the locals here.

    • Megan
      Megan Author at 2:12 pm

      I understand what you are saying because I face this turmoil as well. I just wish people could help at least one time. Think of the millions of people that stream through Istanbul. Perhaps this would allow some to save enough to make a new life for themselves.

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