Helping a blind boy to focus on his dreams in Turkey

Making a Difference, 4 August 2014

UNHCR staff look on as Ashraf, aged 15, uses the braille writer in Turkey's Midyat refugee camp.

MIDYAT REFUGEE CAMP, Turkey, August 4 (UNHCR) Ashraf says everyone wrenched from their home and forced to become a refugee, finds life a struggle: "When you come to a new country, it's as if everyone is blind."

Not everyone is as cheerful and resilient as the 15-year-old, forced to flee from Aleppo in northern Syria to Turkey with six other members of his family almost a year ago. In his case, blind is not just a metaphor: Ashraf and his brother are visually impaired.

That made their journey to Midyat and the subsequent adjustment to life in exile even harder for them than for other refugees.

Since arriving, Ashraf has been attending the school in Midyat refugee camp and recently completed Seventh Grade. Despite the absence of braille materials or specialized writing equipment for him, he was one of the top performers.

"I just listen in class and learn by listening and memorizing," he said. For exams, an older student or teacher reads the questions and he answers verbally. However, it's clear this transition to a camp school has not always been easy.

"I used to attend a school for the blind in Aleppo where we learnt to read braille. There I didn't feel different from everyone else," he said. "We even played football with a special ball that had bells so we knew where it was, but here I don't have anyone to play with."

Working closely with the Turkish government, the UN refugee agency has been supporting the Syrian refugees and providing material and technical support to help the authorities respond to the crisis and manage the increase in arrivals. UNHCR supports the government's registration programme to ensure that people with special needs are identified early and referred to the appropriate mechanisms.

Midyat is not a particularly large camp by Turkish standards, hosting some 2,800 refugees like Ashraf and his family. There are a total of 22 refugee camps with some 220,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. Of the more than 1 million Syrian refugees estimated to be in the country, only 20 per cent are registered in camps. The rest live in cities.

Half of the refugees are children, some with special needs. The Ministry of Education has established schools in all of the refugee camps the government manages in south-eastern Turkey, enabling approximately 61,000 Syrian refugee children to attend schools staffed by volunteer Syrian teachers. UNHCR supports these efforts by providing educational support materials on request.

The agency recently purchased a braille writer a typewriter used to produce braille documents for the use of visually-impaired children and adults as part of the agency's support to education for Syrian refugee children.

"Although I learnt to read braille in Syria, I haven't had much chance to use a writer," Ashraf said shyly. But clearly access to the writer is expanding his skills; he excitedly showed UNHCR staff how he can now write phrases in both Arabic and Turkish letters.

The braille writer is an important tool for a visually-impaired teenager like Ashraf, but the refugees' education needs are huge, while resources are limited. The only braille material available in the camp for Ashraf to read is the Koran he brought from Syria.

That has not hampered his vision for the future. "I want to become a psychologist one day," said Ashraf. "I'm a good listener and I often help people find solutions to their problems."

Turkey hosts the second-largest Syrian refugee population in the region after Lebanon but has only received 17 per cent of the funding it needs. In total, UNHCR and its partners are calling on donors to fund a US$3.74 billion assistance programme across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt to save lives, prevent harm, protect the vulnerable and strengthen the capacity and resilience of refugees and host communities as the crisis deepens into its fourth year.

By Jennifer Robert and Selin Unal in Midyat Refugee Camp, Turkey




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Muazzez Ersoy

Muazzez Ersoy

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Iraqi Refugees in Syria: 2,000 New Arrivals Daily

The UN refugee agency is increasingly alarmed over the continuing violence in Iraq and distressed about the lack of an international humanitarian response to deal with the massive numbers of people being displaced. After an assessment mission in November last year, UNHCR officials warned that the agency was facing an even larger humanitarian crisis than it had prepared for in 2002-03. But UNHCR and other organisations are sorely lacking in funds to cope with the growing numbers of displaced.

In an effort to fill the massive gap in funding, UNHCR in January 2007 launched a US$60 million appeal to cover its protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within strife torn Iraq.

The longer the Iraq conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

Posted on 5 February 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Syria: 2,000 New Arrivals Daily

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