Turkey's Syrian refugees try to adapt to their new home

A Syrian boy pulls his younger brother in a cart in the Bab al-Salam refugee camp for displaced Syrians near the border with Turkey on July 2, 2013.

On a recent visit to Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited a special summer school for Syrian refugee children. He handed out toys -- plastic trucks for the boys and soft dolls for the girls -- and posed for the news photographers. Moments later, he departed in a large motorcade, heading to his next event. Fairly typical, perhaps for a politician on a goodwill tour, but it could also been seen as a metaphor for Turkey’s attitudes toward the Syrian refugees.

Turkey is still helping the more than half a million people who have arrived since the Syrian conflict began two years ago. But there is a sense the welcome may be wearing thin.

Just under half live in 23 camps funded by the Turkish government. The rest live in cities and villages throughout the country. Suphi Atan, who oversees the camps for the foreign ministry, says Turkey has spent more than a billion dollars so far on the refugees. The Syrians are welcome in Turkey, he said, although they have no official refugee status.

“Until they feel that Syria becomes secure and stable, they can stay here. But we will never force them to go to Syria, until they themselves desire,” he said.

The reality may be somewhat different, though. While Turkey’s official policy is to allow all Syrians entry, NGOs and refugees have accused Turkey of blocking entry.

On a more personal level, Turks have been helping Syrian friends and family members.

Idris Hammo, who lives with his family in Nurdağı, a village near the Syrian border. He said he got a hand from distant cousins on his father’s side.

“They aren’t such close relatives,” he said. “But they helped us. They suggested that we come. They helped us find a job.”

But some Turks are starting to get anxious -- that the Syrians are taking scarce jobs, and driving up real estate prices.

Until recently, Settar Çanlıoğlu was responsible for the sister-city relationship between Gaziantep, and Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, a two hour drive away. But when refugees began arriving in great numbers from Aleppo, he became responsible for helping them. Today, he organizes things like Turkish language classes and tries to find appropriate jobs for Syrian doctors who were educated in Turkey, and who have returned as refugees.

He said most Turks see helping the Syrians as a humanitarian duty. At the same time, though, he says enough is enough.

“People here are really willing to share their bread with the Syrians,” he said. “But what we desire most is to see the day when this disaster will be finished and send those people back to their country.”


Alisa's reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

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