By Ann Halsig and Maria del Mar Marais
Entering 63-year old Mustafa’s home in Adana, one is met with the cacophony of birdsong. “My grandchildren love birds. We used to have them back in Syria, too.” In fact, his grandchildren comprise only eight of this 19-strong family, headed by Mustafa. Mustafa has lost both a son and son-in-law to the war in Syria; it has been three years since he last saw his daughter, who chose to stay in Aleppo.
When the fighting became too intense, Sawsan and her husband Ahmad fled Aleppo for Idlib (in the northwest of Syria) with their children, where they remained for 4 years before moving to Adana. Ahmad had been working as a Security Guard back home; he now provides for his family through his work picking cotton, mint and oranges, for which he earns 49 Turkish Lira (about 10.50 EUR) per day. The eldest of their children combines his studies with an apprenticeship at a furniture shop. He and his 6 siblings are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the newest member of the family.
When he was just 13, Alaa and his family fled Aleppo, where his father worked as a tailor, for Istanbul. On the journey, his mother, pregnant at the time, was shot and injured. The emotional shock from this, she explains, is the reason for her typically kind son’s sometimes short temper. Now 16, he supplements his father’s textile factory income with a job wrapping boxes in plastic whilst his three younger siblings go to school.
As a teenager, Karam’s right hand was disfigured in an accident. As an adult, he developed a heart condition, however he was able to provide for his large family with the profits from his sandwich shop. Karam brought his family to Istanbul from Aleppo, where his shop now stands in ruins. With his health conditions, work is difficult to come by, and the family still lives in fear of deportation.
Five years ago, Waad came to Istanbul from Aleppo with her husband and four children. She enrolled her sons in an informal Syrian school three years ago, but felt her daughter should stay home. Her husband, who lives with epilepsy, works in the textile industry for 70 Turkish Lira (about 15 EUR) per day.
Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe local partner Support to Life (STL) teams working in the field under the project, “Enhancing access to effective services and protection for people of concern in Turkey,” understand that each family’s journey to Istanbul is unique, but many of the needs they face are ubiquitous and chronic. Common themes determined through their assessments include the need for information about local services and how to access them, Temporary Protection Status so they have the right to access those services, translation services to be able to communicate their needs, and education for their children, some of whom have fallen far behind in their studies as a consequence of this crisis. The project is funded by the European Union.
“After my cataract operation I feel like I’m 40 years old again.” –Mustafa
By Turkish law, every hospital must have at least one Turkish-Arabic translator present. But with between 500 and 600 thousand refugees in Istanbul, and more than 200,000 in Adana, and with some hospitals unable to meet this minimum requirement, STL’s translation services become literally life-saving. Mustafa’s cataracts caused him to lose 30% of his vision, but his inability to communicate with hospital staff kept him from getting the treatment he needed. So STL field workers accompanied him to the hospital, provided translation services, ensured he had the right diagnosis and was able to get the appropriate documents leading up to his surgery. The same support allowed Karam to get his cardiac condition properly diagnosed, and Waad’s husband to get a formal medical report on his epilepsy.
“Education is a Human Right for All” –UNESCO
According to the Syria Crisis Education Response report from 2017, roughly 54% of school-aged Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt are enrolled in formal education.(1) Barriers to education for refugee children are diverse and depend on the family, of course. But STL has been able to directly address the root cause of this for many of the families with whom it works, and in doing so, create a pathway into school for their children. In some cases, the lack of Temporary Protection Status (TPID) has been the blockade keeping their kids out of the classroom. Karam’s 10 children, and Sawsan and Ahmad’s seven oldest, are now registered in school thanks in part to STL’s support in attaining their TPID.
In fact, all of these families were supported to register their children in school, but sometimes registration alone isn’t enough to overcome all of the obstacles. Alla’s parents couldn’t have afforded the books and uniforms required for their children’s schooling, so STL supported them to access Special Needs Funding to cover those costs. And whilst Waad was already sending her boys to informal Syrian school when she began working with STL, she wasn’t planning to send her daughter to school at all. Luckily, she had a change of heart, influenced to some extent by her attendance at an awareness-raising session held at STL’s Istanbul Community Centre, as part of this project.
Ultimately, these practicalities that comprise a life so many of us take for granted are a daily struggle STL is trying to help alleviate for these and many more families. STL and the communities it works with understand how a lack of access to the services we need and are entitled to – or, conversely, how regaining that access – impacts so significantly on our lives. Waad articulates this perfectly: “I will thank God every day, whether we have enough or we don’t. I just want my husband to be healthy.”