Syrian refugees support each other even as numbers rise

News Stories, 20 June 2013

© UNHCR/E.Byun
A network of 20 camps have been erected across 10 Turkish provinces for Syrian refugees but an additional 200,000 refugees are living there outside of camps.

KILIS CITY, Turkey, 20 June (UNHCR) In Turkey's Kilis province, Syrian refugees now form a third of the population, with thousands camping in a park in the provincial centre. And the number keeps rising.

"Life in Idlib became unbearable, so we had to leave," says Fatima, who arrived weeks ago with her entire family -- including a son with a mental disability and is now living in the central park of Kilis City. "We are hopeful that they will admit us into one of the new camps that they are building."

Kilis province, in south-central Turkey on the Syrian border, is hosting an estimated 45,000 Syrian refugees from the two-year-old Syrian conflict alongside its 82,000 Turkish residents. Two large camps house nearly 14,000 refugees but an estimated 31,000 more are believed to be living elsewhere, often in difficult conditions.

They are among 200,000 Syrian refugees thought to be living in Turkey outside 20 camps spread over 10 provinces. The Turkish government has recently started registering them.

In the last three weeks, thousands of Syrian refugees have erected makeshift tents in the central park in Kilis city, waiting to enter new camps. They struggle to make ends meet, particularly to pay for rising rents and basic needs such as education and health. While food and health care is available, largely through Turkish charities, there is limited sanitation.

Despite this daily uphill struggle, Syrian refugees living in the city both in camps and outside -- have been helping each other and receiving Turkish assistance to meet their needs until the day the conflict ends and they can return home.

Abdel Hamid, whose factory in Aleppo was destroyed, is one of 87 Syrian refugees teaching at a school formed nine months ago to meet a priority of parents who arrived in Kilis.

As their children found it extremely difficult to enroll in Turkish schools because of the language barrier and different curriculum, the refugees in Kilis joined forces to establish a school using Arabic and the Syria curriculum. Today, it provides primary education for 2500 Syrian refugees.

Abdel Hamid, who had fled to the nearest Turkish province with his family after his factory was destroyed in February 2012, says the refugee community would never have been able to create the school without Turkish support.

The municipality provided space in three different buildings for classes. Other Turkish organizations gave help to teachers and school materials for the kids. Permission was also given for the International Medical Corps to conduct trauma counseling for children who had suffered horrific experiences.

"They have been very good to us," said Omar, the school director.

Though Abdel Hamid keeps busy working for the next generation of Syrians, he knows the situation is not sustainable. He, his wife and four children have been living on their little savings; he receives no teaching salary and his 23-year-old son has been unable to find work despite a degree in veterinary medicine.

With no sign of peace in Syria and the number of refugees in Kilis continuing to rise, Abdel Hamid cannot help but worry about the future of his family.

By Reem Alsalem in Kilis, Turkey

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UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

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