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Syrian refugees in Turkey: an existence cloaked in uncertainty

A young boy receives blankets at a Concern distribution at the refugee camp in Turkey. Photo taken by Fionnagh Nally.
A young boy receives blankets at a Concern distribution at the refugee camp in Turkey. Photo: Fionnagh Nally / Concern Worldwide.
News16 September 2015Fionnagh Nally

Concern’s Fionnagh Nally recently visited Turkey to find the lives of refugees living there in turmoil.

I love looking out the window of the plane when touching down in Dublin Airport. It’s a feeling of familiarity, seeing the green patchwork of fields and the almost inevitable hazy mist of drizzle. I had just returned from a six week secondment to our Concern office in Turkey and was greeted with hugs and packets of Taytos from loved ones at the airport; then promptly whisked home for tea. 

Concern working with Syrian refugees

My family and friends had worried when I decided to travel to Turkey, but I was keen to get out there and help support our team. The area Concern is working in has the highest concentration of refugees and just before I traveled out, there had been an influx of people entering Turkey as they fled from war-torn Syria.  

Turkey is host to nearly two million Syrian refugees. They’ve shown incredible generosity in supporting so many people within their borders. Some of those that arrive across the border choose to stay in camps and others choose to make their own way — either way it isn’t easy. People who arrive with resources find their money quickly running out, with rent and expenses to pay and minimal employment opportunities to earn a living. Others, who fled in a hurry, leaving with nothing but the clothes on their backs, find themselves in very vulnerable situations, with few options open to them.

Lives destroyed

Over the six weeks I was there, I met many people with many different stories to tell. If I learned anything, it was that I had a lot more to learn. However complex the situation may be, it’s easy to see that we need to continue to respond to the growing humanitarian needs of the people affected by this conflict.

Throughout my time in Turkey, I repeatedly thought about my life in Ireland. I met Syrian refugees who grew up with similar expectations to Irish people of what their lives would hold. I met people who, back home in Syria, had careers, families, aspirations and plans for their future. This conflict has brought all those hopes and expectations crashing down. They now find themselves in limbo. I met people living in all kinds of situations. One family group of about ten or twelve were staying in a disused petrol station — essentially bare rooms with glassless windows. In the baking heat of the summer, they were sheltered from the sun, but coming into the winter months, when frost and snow can cause temperatures to plummet, it clear the cold months would be difficult. Concern has distributed blankets and sleeping mats, both of which are so badly needed by the poorest and most vulnerable refugees here.

We are working to provide emergency hygiene kits to displaced Syrians and we need your support.

Unable to return home

I met elderly women, who had been uprooted from their homes and everything they’d known — when they should have been secure in their old age, surrounded by family. I met children — fragile, and sometimes too quiet, haunted by so much turmoil in their young years. I met a teenage boy who fought back tears, who dreamed only of the day he could return home.

I had a home to come back to. I can’t imagine how I would cope if that was taken from me. I can’t imagine the decisions I’d have to face, none of them ideal. Would I wait for the end of a war that shows no signs of ending? Would I send my child out to work instead of to school because I didn’t know how we would afford rent for another month? Would I risk the lives of my family and try to travel across land or sea in the hope that there might be something better or at least a chance for my children?

I’ve seen so many stories on the news about the refugees since I came home. Behind those numbers, there are people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil. If it was me, I’d hope my family and my community would come to my aid. I hope in these times of great need, we are able to rally to support those hit by this tragic crisis. 

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