In Cesme, good Samaritans help refugees stuck in Turkey | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 26.03.2016
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In Cesme, good Samaritans help refugees stuck in Turkey

Despite the country's recent deal with the EU - and the promise of billions from Brussels - refugees often receive no government support in Turkey. Volunteers try to fill the gaps, DW's Daniel Heinrich reports.

Suddenly everyone in the cafe was in a rush. Just a moment before, the volunteers had been sitting around, laughing, talking and drinking tea. Then a call came in: A group of refugees was in urgent need of help, food and medication.

The volunteers jumped up; everyone knew what to do. Despite the rush, everything ran smoothly, routine even. "We got a call from a friend five minutes ago," said Mecit, a 21-year-old volunteer who studies tourism and management at the local university. "She said that she had seen a refugee family hiding in the woods from the police."

He packed everything that might be needed. Over several months, diapers for babies, warm blankets and clothing for adults have been collected, sorted and piled up together for use in the camp.

The camp's headquarters is the little cafe. Throughout the day, visitors, helpers and people with various needs come and go. In the background, quiet electronic music plays. The atmosphere is relaxed, even though Imece staff are working the whole time. Imece can loosely be translated as "collaborative," which happens to be the slogan of the small NGO. Most of the helpers are students like Mecit. They all forfeit their spare time; they all help here together.

Mecit, Imece

Mecit gathers the necessary supplies in Imece's depot

'Wet, completely frozen'

Nur Sarioglu is clearly proud of the work that Imece does. The group has become an integral part of humanitarian aid here. "The Coast Guard calls us whenever they have pulled refugees out of the water; the police do the same," said Sarrioglu, who is in her mid-40s. "The Coast Guard depends on our work the most. The people they pull out of the water are often wet, completely frozen and need new clothes."

Imece is funded entirely through donations. It receives support from all over the world, Sarioglu said. The organization is trying to fill the gaps left by the state.

To Kristian Brakel, the head of the German Heinrich Böll Foundation in Istanbul, this work is essential. "Except for the Syrian refugees, the masses of refugees have no status, no apartment or any other services," he said. None of these people obtain any sort of money from the state, he added.

Any help makes a difference to Imece. "We work carefully," Sariouglu said, "especially on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook."


Sarioglu says the government does not interfere with Imece's efforts, but doesn't assist much

Do it yourself

Some of Imece's volunteers come from abroad. Claudia Pop is here from Bochum, in Germany's Ruhrgebiet, where she works at a language school. She spends her holidays here and volunteers just like the students. She is still shocked about the living conditions of the refugees. "People here are doing very, very poorly," Pop said. "There is hardly anyone who helps them. People who have no documents or no money are forced to sleep outside." Some of the refugees run to the train station when it rains because at least it has a roof.

Türkei Claudia Pop mit Flüchtlingen

Claudia Pop is volunteering while on vacation from her job in Germany

Anil Aktas, from Bilkent University in Ankara, judges the government harshly. "The number of refugees and, consequently, their influence on life in Turkey, has reached a level that the Turkish authorities had never expected," he said. The government is lagging hopelessly behind when it comes to registration of refugees.

In Cesme, authorities cooperate with Imece's volunteers. "We respect each other," the coordinator Sarioglu said. "Local authorities neither help nor hinder our work," she added. No one here seems to expect anything from the state.

"We simply want to help people in need," Mecit said in the depot as he grabbed two big packs of diapers and some water. "First, we helped the needy in the area and now the refugees." And then he walked off to do just that. His friends were waiting for him at the car.