May 22, 2014
by Joshua Hersh
Back in Syria’s Hama province, where he is from, Ali once had a beautiful home, with ornate tile work, a pair of cars and a driver to help him get around.
But after he was imprisoned briefly for anti-government political activity, the Syrian army seized his home and all his possessions, he said, even stopping to dig up the valuable floor tiles.
Today, Ali lives with his extended family in a cramped, one-story building in this remote suburb of Antakya, where he struggles to find enough money to feed his family, and often fails to make rent.
“We have nothing,” said Ali, who asked to be identified only by his first name, as he sat on a thin mattress in his home’s simply appointed sitting area.
In one corner of the room, three young children watched Turkish-language “Tom and Jerry” cartoons on an antiquated 20-inch television. In another, Ali’s aging mother, who suffers from diabetes and chronic pain, cried softly for her daily treatments.
Turkey has earned praise for its management of the massive inflow of refugees from Syria, especially the quarter million or so who have managed to find rooms in one of the pristine government-run camps.
But the vast majority of Syrians taking refuge in Turkey — half a million or more, by United Nations estimates — live outside these official structures, in major cities and rural slums, where, they say, they have received little or no assistance from the government, and have reached the limit of their welcome.
By law, they cannot hold jobs with Turkish companies, and their children cannot attend Turkish schools. And as the conflict moves into its fourth summer, these refugees are finding that what little savings they may have initially relied on are rapidly drying up.
“I would have much preferred to stay in a camp,” Ali said. “We cannot afford to live like this for so long.”
For medicine and other basic needs, including his children’s education, Ali, like most of the other approximately 15,000 Syrians who make their home in Narlica, relies almost entirely on an independent aid organization called the Narlica Charity for Syrian Relief — an impromptu collaboration of other Syrian refugees in the area who saw a lack of official or international services and decided to act.
“We owe everything to the charity,” Ali said. “If it wasn’t for them, many people in this community would be living on the streets.”
The Turkish government “doesn’t do anything at all for these people,” said Jamil Shahin, the director of the Narlica charity, during an interview in the group’s makeshift office across town.
Shahin, himself a refugee from Latakia province, is a large man with a sonorous voice and an unhurried, seen-it-all manner. He arrived in Narlica about two years ago, expecting to stay for a few weeks or months — and has never made it home.
“When I came here, no one helped me. No one was helping anyone,” he said. “So when I looked around and saw the tragic situation that was affecting the people here, we decided we had to get together and form an association, and divide up the responsibilities.”
The charity, which formed nine months ago, began by collecting donations from the community, asking anyone who could to contribute 10 Turkish lira (about five dollars). Using donated goods and volunteered time, the organizers turned an abandoned ground-floor office into a community center and free health clinic, which now treats 170 patients a day.
But Narlica is off the beaten path for government aid groups and major international organizations, and summoning consistent resources has proven frustratingly difficult.
Majd al-Shoufi, the director of another independent Syrian NGO called Insan, recently did a project in Narlica to help young children cope with the traumas of living through a war.
But al-Shoufi, who lives just a few kilometers away in Antakya, said that merely finding the place depended on sheer fluke.
“If I hadn’t been brought to the camp here by a friend, I never would have even heard of it,” he said.
The program was a wild success: Al Jazeera English covered the group’s efforts, and much of the community turned out for a final night’s performance by the children. But a second grant to continue his work, from the Danish government, never materialized, al-Shoufi said, and he has been forced to put his group’s activities on hold while he looks for a job so he can pay his own rent.
Ali’s children participated in the program, and when al-Shoufi visited the home recently, the children tugged at his shirt, asking him when the activities would start again.
“I don’t know,” al-Shoufi said, shaking his head sorrowfully.
Meanwhile, Ali’s own burden has recently been compounded: A family of six, acquaintances from back in Hama, arrived at Ali’s doorstep a few days earlier, saying they had fled the country and needed help. Now, Ali’s tiny home hosts 14 people.
“They said they had nowhere else to go,” Ali said. “So we have to help them.”
Source: The Huffington Post