Syrian refugees a financial strain on Turkish hosts

Alisa Roth Jun 28, 2011

Syrian refugees a financial strain on Turkish hosts

Alisa Roth Jun 28, 2011

Tess Vigeland: In Moscow today, a Russian envoy met with members of the Syrian opposition and called for an end to “any and all forms of violence.” As Syria continues to crack down on protesters, more than 10,000 refugees have crossed into neighboring Turkey. And the Turkish government is making preparations to accept thousands more. It’s an expensive situation for the Turkish government, and a precarious one for the refugees.

Marketplace’s Alisa Roth reports from Turkey.

Alisa Roth: There’s a stack of sleeping mats and bedding in a corner of this house that almost reaches the ceiling. That’s because for the last couple of weeks, more than 30 Syrian refugees have been sleeping here.

Lajia: They were burning houses and fields and killing animals. They started shooting and killed two families.

This woman, who says her name is Lajia, crossed the border about two weeks ago with her six children. The youngest is 6, the oldest is 17. Her son, Ali, who’s the oldest, showed me this video on his phone — of the funeral of his friend whose throat had been slit by Syrian forces.

Officially, there are just over 10,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. The thing is, though, nobody knows how many more are living with relatives and friends.

Suhella Kornaz is one of the Turkish hosts. She says having this many people stay is challenging.

Suhella Kornaz: They don’t have anything. They don’t have clothes or even shoes.

It’s a lot logistically. It’s even harder economically. A lot of the refugees are like Lajia — she didn’t have much in Syria. And she left everything behind when she ran. But even people like her cousin Mehmet, who says he worked in construction and is quite well-off in Syria, came with almost nothing. The Turkish government is only helping refugees who are living in camps. So it means these families are supporting their own, on their own. And it’s not like they have a lot to share.

This tiny village — it’s called Guvecci — is really just a couple of dozen stone and concrete houses sitting on hills overlooking the Syrian border. Most of the people here are subsistence farmers. They have a few animals, some olive or fruit trees, but not much else. They say they have to help their families. But it’s clearly a strain.

Kornaz, the Turkish host, says she’s really not sure how much longer she can afford to support her Syrian relatives.

Kornaz: I used to spend 5 to 10 Turkish liras a day for food. Now it’s more like 20. It’s getting harder to survive day to day.

The refugee crisis is costing Turkey, too. Just down the hill from Guvecci, thousands of people are living in camps — vast fields of white tents, emblazoned with the Red Crescent’s logo. The Red Crescent, which is in charge of the camps, hasn’t been letting journalists in. And the police chase you away if they catch you trying to talk to people inside. But people there reportedly get three meals a day, medical care, clothes — all provided by the Turkish government. Turkey isn’t saying how much the generosity is costing.

Mustafa Kemal Dagistanli is the mayor of Yayladagi, where several of the camps are. He says having the refugees is like doubling the size of his town.

Mustafa Kemal Dagistanli: They are our friends and brothers. It wouldn’t be right to kick them out. But they’ve doubled our infrastructure costs.

The Turkish government will pay for it — so it won’t come out of the town’s budget. But like the families up the hill, it’s also not clear how long Turkey can continue supporting all these people on its own. And it could get much harder. As I was standing on a hillside in Guvecci, looking at the makeshift camps on the Syrian side, these men came by. They’d come to Turkey to buy bread and other supplies. And they were getting ready to sneak back across because it’s almost impossible to get food or water on the Syrian side.

In Guvecci, Turkey, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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