05/01/2020, 08.00
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Syrian migrants, caught between the dream of Europe and the hostility of their Turkish ‘brothers’

The novel coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey. Up to 1.7 million survive on humanitarian aid of about US a month. Many work in the informal economy, stuck in informal camps and unsanitary conditions.


Izmir (AsiaNews) – Turkey, a country of 82 million people, has welcomed up to 3.6 million Syrian refugees. But over the past year, the country’s economic and financial situation has worsened, compounded more recently by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Against this background, the “emergency situation has once again affected the weakest, namely migrants and refugees,” said Hakan Bilgin, president of Doctors of the World-Turkey, who spoke to French daily Le Monde.

Without jobs and earning no money, “their insecurity is bound to get worse,” especially since no programme is in place to “provide them with food, medical treatment, water, electricity”. They are in “a crisis in crisis”.

Turkey, which had first welcomed its neighbours in need as “fellow Muslims”, now sees the refugees as unwanted guests who take await resources from the local population and increase poverty.

Located on the Aegean Sea, Izmir is Turkey’s third largest city, and a secular bastion against the despotism of Islam-leaning President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party. It is also, according to official figures, home to an estimated 150,000 Syrian refugees. However, the number is far greater, and, over time, their integration has become increasingly tenuous and precarious.

At first Syrian refugees received protection, but this, like in the rest of the country, turned into growing hostility from the Turkish population. Since their arrival, rents have increased, schools and health facilities (especially hospitals) have become overcrowded, and fake news abound about the costs Turks have to bear to maintain them.

According to Danièle Bélanger and Cenk Saraçoglu, authors of a study on anti-Syrian sentiment in the city, "what is happening in Turkey is not very different from what is happening in Europe, where far-right parties blame migrants for social problems”.

In Turkey, up to 1.7 million Syrian refugees – the most vulnerable – depend on humanitarian aid, around US a month.

Between 2016 and 2019, 133,000 work permits were issued, but many refugees work in the informal economy.

Doctors of the World estimates that 8,000 to 20,000 refugees live in informal camps in Torbali, a municipality in Izmir province, in unsanitary conditions. In one camp, 180 refugees - including 40 children under the age of five - live amid the mud and rubbish.

Hulud Hattab is one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees coping with the hardships and challenges of every day. Married at 13, the mother of three had to invent a job in Izmir because her husband's income was not enough to feed the family.

She learnt Turkish in restaurant kitchens working as a dishwasher and in a garment factory. Today her dream is "to go to Europe". She tried in 2016 but paid a hefty price: the dinghy on which she was travelling capsized and three children of a relative died.

For his part, Fadi Haydar, 43, hopes “to go to Europe”, but "legally". In 2015 his family lost US,000 paid to a Turkish people smuggler who, when the time came to cross, left them at a hotel in the city and disappeared with money.

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