Is there Hope? Part 3 - Turkish Hospitality for Refugees

Focusing on Turkey’s efforts to provide hospitality to refugees, this is the last in a three-part series exploring the ongoing crisis gripping the lives of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Middle East. The series has examined the ties that bind the Holy Land, Lebanon, and Turkey - three countries experiencing particular strain as they struggle for solutions to the greatest humanitarian crisis to affect the region in modern times.

Turkey’s southern border with Syria is a contiguous stretch of undulating hills, expansive plateaus and olive groves, and the road to Kilis - Turkey’s closest southeast border town reached by Syrians fleeing their homeland - has taken them straight to an open-arms customs gate.

The scene has not been unlike that in Lebanon: A disconsolate stream of humanity crossing the respective borders with terrible accounts of torture, rape, beheadings, and forced conversions have been a mirror image.

Inside the host country, however, many similarities diverge.

Turkey’s Solution to Refugee Camps

Turkey has a land area of 301,382 square miles in which to absorb the 1,772,535 Syrian refugees that it has taken in as of June 15, 2015. Lebanon is comprised of 4,036 square miles in which to shim its 1,174,690 victims of forced migration.

While Lebanon’s constitutional guidelines do not allow for government construction of refugee camps, Turkey designed, built, stocked and staffed - with Turks only - sparkling, safe “cities” of refuge. Located in five provinces close to the southeast Syrian border, whether container or tent lodging, these “city-camps” include schools, hospitals, stores and amenities that make them seem - compared to most refugees camps in the world - like resorts. For a short-term crisis, their design and management has been called the best on earth. 

That’s the operative word, however: short-term. Because guests are not allowed employment off grounds, prolonged stays exacerbate depression, stupefying boredom, dependency, resignation and hopelessness. Visions of the scorched earth vanquishment of their homes, businesses and whole villages become permanent night terrors.

Investment in the construction of such generous, high-end camps counted on guests’ relatively quick repatriation, not waiting lists and long lines at the gate. Now, most residents in places like the Kilis containment camp - deeply grateful as they are - wonder if they will ever see their homeland again; many believe they will die in exile.

Seeking Hope Outside of Government Refugee Camps

The majority of refugees in Turkey, though, are leery of the confinement of camp living and regulations. Hundreds of thousands of them - registered and unregistered - eschew such assistance, and make their way to urban centers, believing jobs will be more available. The rivalry with and often consequential displacement of Turkish workers echoes the problems of other host countries. In reality, in Turkey most of those who have urban jobs do menial work and live in dangerous shanties, or in squatter clusters where violent street crime, prostitution and child labor with abuse and sexual exploitation is soaring. Living outside the purview of camps, this population receives scant, if any, aid or protection.

It is where the countless hidden and hurting reside that a local GHNI worker, with donors’ generosity, can reach out to help meet basic needs of food, clothing and hygiene products and give glimmers of hope to desperate refugees who have become even more desperate street people. This is where a touch of joy can still ignite the warmth of smiles on defeated faces.

Elsewhere in Turkey, remote, underserved villages with disenfranchised minority populations suffer a critical lack of medical care and are the focus of GHNI’s Transformational Community Development (TCD) model. GHNI’s associate staff physician, Dr. K*, visits there throughout the year, providing basic health care. Because of the generosity of GHNI donors, he is able to provide medicine to the sick and currently is developing a preventive medicine plan to address the region’s most prevalent health issues.

Hope for Refugees in Turkey

Meanwhile, the long-term presence and continued surge of Syrian refugees into Turkey has created its own border dilemma, leading it back to a philosophical convergence with Lebanon: How to continue to house, feed and keep safe the ever-growing multitudes swarming its gates?

In March 2015, Turkey closed all its border gates with Syria

The tipping point for both Turkey and Lebanon was certainly the staggering numbers of refugees, multiplied by their time in the host countries, but Turkey’s closure came after viable information revealed terrorism plans - accommodated by a porous border. Additionally, startling change in the country’s ethnic and sectarian balances in the resettlement provinces is fanning tension. In the town of Kilis, for instance, the Arab population prior to the crisis was one percent; in 2013 it had soared to 59%.

Still, Turkey, like Lebanon and the Holy Land, is adamant that regardless of border status, refugees with medical emergencies will never be turned away.

On June 15, 2015 thousands of Syrians fleeing fresh apocalyptic violence literally cut through or frantically climbed over razor-sharp coils - balancing barefoot babies on the barbed wire of border fencing into Turkey.

The consequences of the current strain on the Holy Land, Lebanon, Turkey and other Middle East countries, is perhaps best described in a statement by Selin Ünal, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency: “This isn’t just about Turkey or Syria anymore … This is a problem that will affect the entire world. There is something historic going on here.”

Amid such turmoil, GHNI, with the support of its wonderful donors, continues to serve desolate refugees and IDPs in the Middle East. Will you help us deliver hope and joy this July to refugee families rife with sadness and hopelessness?

Read the rest of this series -
Is there Hope? Part 1: Violence in the Holy Land
Is there Hope? Part 2: Refugees Seek Work in Lebanon

*For purposes of security and well-being, "Dr K" is a pseudonym of the person involved in this project.