Altınözü stands on the fertile Kuseyr plateau, and several crops such as olives, tobacco, grains and other crops are grown here. The region is also now home to refugee families who have fled the war in Syria, only some 20km away. Some 1,350 Syrians(1) have taken refuge in Altınözü Camp, although most refugees in Turkey live outside the camps in urban and rural settings.
In one of these rural villages lives the Syrian couple Hasan and his wife Zozan, originally from Jisr ash-Shugur, Idleb countryside. They left their hometown, only an hour’s car ride away, when Syrian aircraft launched two bombs on their house. Luckily no one was hurt. Zozan and her son crossed illegally into Turkey shortly after the bombing, now five years ago. The rest of the family soon joined. Possibilities of returning home remain low as Jisr ash-Shugur is currently under the control of Islamist insurgents and is frequently bombed.(2)
The couple now share a house with the families of their three sons. The house was unfurnished when they arrived but the neighbors helped them by providing them with a few mats and pillows. One of the key factors of this good relationship is the fact that the locals in Hatay speak Arabic, Hatay having been under French Mandate in Syria until 1936 and has only been annexed to Turkey in 1939.(3)
The family, who were selected as beneficiaries of the winterization and food security program implemented by Support to Life organization, with the support of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and funded by The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Office, are planning to repair their leaks and to buy carpets, blankets and a stove. They will use an E-voucher to purchase these items.
This project is covering 2,200 of the most vulnerable households in Hatay province, serving in total approximately 11,000 individuals. The vouchers allow families to buy a variety of items from winter clothing to electric heaters, including fuel. The vouchers will be charged with 150TL (≃45 EU) per person at the beginning of November 2016. Families will then have a shopping period of 15 days, during which they will be able to visit different contracted markets and buy the items of their preference.
Not far away from Hasan’s home, Mohamed Kareem and his family are also preparing for the winter. Their three-room house has a wood stove in one of the rooms. Once their voucher is charged they plan to buy two wood more stoves alongside wood and blankets. Kareem and his family used to grow wheat and cotton in Hamah countryside in Syria. When three people of their village were killed, they decided to flee. They now work in the olive fields as seasonal agricultural workers. The discontinuity of work has driven the family through challenging times. Nevertheless, the support from the locals had been fundamental for helping them rebuild their life. On occasions when they were unable to pay their rent, the landlord waited until better times came. The mosque offered them the carpets for their home when they arrived. “All Turkish people have been good to us. We don’t visit their houses to avoid gossips, but our door is open to everyone”- says Batul, Kareem’s wife. “When there is a tragedy, we share sadness. When there is a happy event such as a wedding, we celebrate together.”- adds Kareem. “We are one family. We are one hand” says the neighbor who is present in the room and who frequently visits Batul to chat and drink tea.
As we leave Kareem’s family home we notice a cage hanging on the veranda wall. Two canary birds tweet happily inside. “These canaries are Syrian” says Batul. “Really! I did not know canaries lived so long” I answered. “No, it was not them we took across the border, but their parents. Some time after we arrived they laid eggs. These you see now are the second generation” she clarified.
* Names have been changed in order to respect the privacy of the portrayed people
1. http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21579522-refugees-a... Syrian refugees in Turkey: Will they ever go home?
2. Agence France-Presse
3. Arnold Twinby, 1938 Survey of International Affairs p. 484