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Turkey: An unlikely and unprepared haven

Daniel Heinrich, Cesme / gro
March 27, 2016

The "safe" haven of Turkey has had trouble accommodating refugees. DW's Daniel Heinrich reports from Cesme.

Türkei Obdachloser Flüchtling
Image: DW/D. Heinrich

In recent years, about 3 million people, 2.7 million of them Syrian, have sought refuge in Turkey. However, only a fraction of them live in camps organized by the state - just 11 percent of the Syrians, for example. The rest are dispersed throughout the country, mostly in large cities.

In theory, refugees in Turkey have access to health care and education, but in practice there are massive problems with integrating them into society. A lack of state involvement is mostly to blame.

Kristian Brakel, the head of the German Heinrich Böll Foundation in Istanbul, believes that the fault lies in part in Turkey's lack of experience as a destination for immigrants. "Questions about citizenship are critical," Brakel told DW, "and they make Turkish authorities see red." Furthermore, the question of citizenship "is something that has been given barely any thought."

Cevdet says he has frequent cultural misunderstandings with his boardersImage: DW/ D. Heinrich

'Stir up unrest'

Anil Aktas, of Bilkent University, said the lack of government involvement would have major consequences - including the gradual spreading of fear about refugees through society. "Most Turks do not believe that it is easy to integrate so many newcomers into society," Aktas said. "They firmly believe that societal and cultural differences stir up unrest." He added: "To this part of society, it would be disastrous if migrants obtained Turkish citizenship."

A prime example of this slowly spreading fear is Cevdet, a man in his 50s who has chosen not to reveal his real name. For months, he let refugees sleep in his small hotel. If they didn't have money, Cevet said, he just let them live with him for free. "It is very difficult, yet we actually have the same cultural background," Cevdet said. "Sometimes I do not understand it. People don't know how to behave."

Cevdet is annoyed by what he said were daily confrontations with his guests. "Every time I bring some food or would like to hand out clothes, a battle practically breaks out," Cevdet said. "Just recently, I bought some sweets for the children; then, I told the people to get in line and share them with each other. I was barely gone when everyone rushed towards it. They are so desperate. With them, it is every man for himself."

The Huseynis have resolved to make it in their new homeImage: DW/D. Heinrich

Dreaming of Germany

Cevad Husmeyni is trying with all his might to gain a foothold in the new country despite the adversity. The 24-year-old and his family fled the Taliban in Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in eastern Afghanistan. They traveled over 4,000 kilometers (2,400 miles), crossing Iran and Iraq and going on until they reached the Aegean coast. Husmeyni and his family do not have residence permits for Turkey. Like many young refugees, he works hard every day at a construction site for starvation wages and without health insurance.

"Of course we would have rather come to Germany, but my wife gave birth to our child while were fleeing," Husmeyni said. They considered the sea passage to Greece with the infant. "But it all seemed to be a crazy idea," he said. "Maybe a stroke of destiny let us begin a new life in Turkey." With his family's trip to Western Europe cut short, he said, "now we feel just fine here."

His 6-year-old son, Mohamed, was in the yard, doing his best to launch a career as a soccer star. The tired father sat on the couch next to his wife and their newborn daughter, Merve, and watched Mohamed play.

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