Me and Nils are in Istanbul to understand the needs of the refugees living in this beautiful city and to know where to channel our resources.
This is what we’ve learnt about life for Syrians in Istanbul so far:
Many Turkish people don’t want to rent to Syrians, and when they do, they charge a lot more money. This, combined with the fact that it is very difficult for them to find work, puts people in an impossible position…
Yes, it has recently been made legal for Syrian refugees to work in Turkey, but the process of getting these papers involves going back to Syria and seems to be pretty ridiculous. This means many people are forced to work unofficially, cash in hand, often in textile workshops (in the particular neighbourhood we are working in). These textile workshops pay a Syrian man less than a Turkish man, a Syrian woman gets even less, and the children earn even less (about 40 dollars per week). As you can imagine, for this reason, no one employs the fathers but exploit the women and children (who as a result don’t attend school, instead working to feed their families).
We were told that the police don’t have the physical man power to competently do anything about this so turn a blind eye, and as the government DO issue Syrians with permits to stay in Turkey, but make work permits so difficult to obtain, they know full well what is happening too.
People dream of Europe, but they know the journey is becoming increasingly impossible, so they do their best to stay, to integrate, to learn Turkish, and to regain a level of normality, of the life they left behind.
Today we visited a Syrian family to deliver them a fridge. Nils carried it up a dark staircase and into their tiny flat where they live with 7 people. They were over the moon and of course, insisted we sit and have coffee.
They spoke no English so me and Nils listed off the few Arabic words and phrases in our repertoire and they laughed and smiled at us with pain behind their eyes.
They are doing their best. But just imagine everyone in England had to leave due to war, your friends, family, neighbours, everyone you know… How long would you last in a new country, with no job, no knowledge of the language and high rent to pay? How long would your savings sustain you? How long would you survive before you are forced to make decisions which slowly strip away the dignity of you and your family…begging on the street, sending your children to work, or risking your life crossing the sea in a rubber dingy…
It’s easy to have an opinion about refugees and this crisis when we hear the facts and figures, but always bring it back to how would YOU feel. How would YOU want a country to react to YOU and YOUR family, and the answers soon become clear…