Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Bashar al Assad's Sunni Citizens

"It was 7 in the morning. I was preparing breakfast for the kids. We heard the sound of government 
 warplanes flying over the town. Shortly afterwards, they started dropping bombs."
"Everyone in this house is depressed. We have lost weight. My sisters and my other brother have also been looking for jobs. But they are struggling."
Ahdaab Almajed, Syrian refuge , Mersin, Turkey 

"We observe an increase in criminal activities such as murder, kidnapping, and most importantly prostitution among Syrian refugees in Mersin."
Huseyin Kar, journalist, IHA news agency

"Syrian women come from a traditional and conservative society. It is an insult for a woman to work. So women do not have business or social lives. Naturally children are sent out to work."
"Although Turkish schools are free of charge, some families are so poor and helpless that they don't even know how to register their children to schools. Besides, some children are the household's primary breadwinners so they have to work."
Arzu Kaymak, Mersin University postgrad, public administration

"One Syrian teacher had a nervous breakdown today, which is a common thing here. She cried and collapsed. They need compassion."
"Syrian children are surprisingly more resilient compared to adults. They seem to have moved on."
Nupelda Akaslan, Turkish language teacher, Mezitli education centre

refugee hotel
The view of Mersin from the top floor of the Green Tower "Grand Refugee" hotel.
Fabio Bucciarelli for Al Jazeera America

In Mersin, located on the east Mediterranean coast, approximately 350,000 Syrian refugees have gathered to live. That number of refugees is overwhelming for a city of one million people. Many Syrians arrive in Mersin viewing it as a launch point toward the boat journey across the Mediterranean, hoping to reach Europe and a new life. And then there are the single Syrian women with their children, struggling to cope with what fate has delivered them to.

refugee hotel
A Syrian refugee observes the sea at the beach in Kiz Kalesi, around 60Km west of Mersin, while waiting to board a ship that will smuggle her to Europe.
Fabio Bucciarelli for Al Jazeera America

They feel lost and abandoned in a foreign country, and are harassed. They feel trapped in poverty, loneliness and fear, according to a United Nations report on their situation that also noted that in desperation some women become prostitutes to keep body and soul together. Sometimes there are few choices; whether to send their children to school, or out to work to help the family attain the necessities of life.

So Syrian children can be seen on the streets of the city, begging, collecting trash or selling things while others go to work in textile factories even though it is unlawful. Turkey has instituted a system of "temporary education centres" offering an Arabic-language curriculum, with eleven of those centres located in Mersin. One of the city's districts is called "Little Syria", Mezitli; the education centre located there is capable of accommodating 1,300 students taught Arabic, Turkish and English.

One of a number of charitable organizations established to help Syrian refugees, the Syrian Social Gathering was founded by Syrian businessmen in support of educating Syrian children. "We register Syrian refugees, visit them regularly, collect data, and introduce our services. We try to help poor families and make sure their children have access to education", explained chairman of the charity, Mohammad Zein.

People walk outside a private clinic operated by the Syrian NGO Syrian Social Gathering in Mersin, south of Turkey on March 10, 2015. AFP Photo
People walk outside a private clinic operated by the Syrian NGO Syrian Social Gathering in Mersin, south of Turkey on March 10, 2015. AFP Photo

Even though school attendance is free and despite the attempts of the government and NGOs to enlist the children in schools that offer state-approved curricula, 75 percent of Syrian refugee children don't attend school for one reason or another. Medical centres have also been established for the Syrian refugees where both Turkish and Syrian doctors work. "The medical centres are very vital, but they are not adequate", feels Dr. Ful Ugurhan, president of the Doctors' Association of Mersin.

"Turkey is not experienced in handling millions of refugees. We could have handled the refugee crisis better Despite all difficulties, our society is still compassionate toward Syrians. At the moment, both locals and Syrians live peacefully without hurting each other. But locals are afraid Syrians will stay forever", observed Dr. Ugurhan. "Local people will then [post-Syrian-war] start to question and that's when the real problems will arise."

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