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Refugee assistance

Max Zander / reDecember 10, 2013

Turkey expects to receive a million Syrian refugees by the end of the year. Turkish assistance is considered to be effective - but with the increasing numbers, the aid is being stretched to its limits.

Syrian refugees arrive in Turkey
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

A group of school-age boys stands next to the jungle gym. The boys look at the visitors and whisper to each other as the visitors pass them. Ibrahim Demir walks ahead, across the dirt path, past the tents and the container structures housing the showers and toilets.

"We are hopelessly overcrowded: 12,000 refugee live here, and the number is increasing daily," Demir said. The refugee camp "Nizip 1" opened its doors 16 months ago. Originally planned for 8,000 refugees, Nizip 1 has a grocery store, meeting rooms, a clinic and four schools.

Demir, the director of the refugee camp in the south Anatolian province of Gaziantep, said the conditions are good there - "but we can't take in any more people." Conditions in this Turkish refugee camp are better than the international average.

There are more than 400,000 refugees in the region of Gaziantep alone, and nearly a million refugees in Turkey. The Turkish border is only open to Syrians with a valid passport. But there are numerous illegal border crossings, which makes statistical data on border crossings unreliable.

Refugee aid being stretched to its limits
Muhammad, a Syrian refugee, works on a farm outside of GaziantepImage: Johannes Lohmann

Refugees who reach Turkey and get officially registered can receive medical care and housing in a camp, if it has capacity. Unregistered immigrants can usually receive free, unofficial medical care. Syrians regularly commute between their homes in Syria and Turkey in search of such care.

Difficult making ends meet

The camp is about half an hour from downtown Nizip. At the edge of a park there, Amak Faidalallh runs an improvised stall: The 40-year-old sells bread late into the night. The battles in Aleppo drove him and his family out of Syria, and he arrived in Turkey three days ago. He found shelter for himself, his pregnant wife and three children at a friend's house. They now share a small apartment with 16 others - anything else would be too expensive.

Six Syrian men work on a farm outside of Gaziantep, among them Muhammad. He stands in rubber boots and holds a restive sheep while a veterinarian gives the animal a shot.

Refugee aid being stretched to its limits
The Turkish government financially supports the Kilis schoolImage: Johannes Lohmann

The young man was a soldier with Syrian government troops, but six months ago deserted and came to Turkey. He said he cannot go back because a summary court awaits him.

He likes being a shepherd - it doesn't pay much, but allows him to take care of himself. He left his first job in Turkey because it didn't pay enough. He said he worked seven days a week in a shoe factory on 12-hours shifts without breaks, for a monthly salary equivalent to 200 euros ($275). He claimed that the Turkish colleague on the machine next to him earned three times as much.

Traumatized children

The small town of Kilis is on the way to the border, about an hour by minivan from Gaziantep. The passengers in the back exchange a few words in Arabic as the hilly landscape of Anatolia passes by.

Haitham Wilio is a coordinator at a Syrian school in Kilis, where he teaches computer science. He and his colleagues started to enroll the children from the surrounding parks in the school about 15 months ago. After speaking with the mayor of Kilis, the Turkish government started paying for the building and some supplies, like desks and chalkboards.

In its first year, the school taught 1,500 pupils. Working in shifts, 47 teachers try to close educational gaps that were created by the Syrian conflict. The civil war experiences have left numerous marks on the children.

Refugee aid being stretched to its limits
Aid agencies like International Blue Crescent assist the Syrian refugees in TurkeyImage: Johannes Lohmann

"We often have to handle aggressive boys," said Wilio. "That's why we separated the boys and girls in the higher classes. During the breaks you can see how the emotions come up," he said.

He showed a document issued by the International Blue Crescent, the school's second-largest supporter. When a child is too problematic, the school can apply for psychological help. It would be too expensive for the school to employ its own psychologists.

Turkish-Syrian border

It takes the taxi 10 minutes to drive from the school to the Öncu Pinar Kapisi border crossing. Here is another refugee camp, next to the checkpoint and the roadhouse. Every few minutes, a fully packed taxi drives away from the border crossing. Children play at the sides of the streets, men and women sit on the ground and wait as the daylight slowly fades.

Behind the taxi stand is a field which must have been a provisional camp. The remnants of a fence and tent marks can still be seen there.

About 50 meters from the Turkish border guards, there's a hole in the border fence. A group arrives: two young men with luggage and an elderly woman with a bag on her back. "Salam aleikum," they say to each other. Then they help the woman through the hole in the fence, and within seconds disappear among the pines on their way back to Syria.