Syria crisis: Helping refugees in Turkey start to smile again

Christos Papaioannou
A woman buying winter clothing for her 7-month-old daughter thanks to a CARE winter support programme for refugee families in Turkey

It’s never easy listening to stories of people who have fled war.

It’s Wednesday afternoon and I sit in the room of a family who arrived in south-east Turkey in mid-January.

The furniture consists of sponge mattresses (for sitting and sleeping) lining three sides of the room. A mixed group fills the room: Fatima*, 54, her husband Amir, 63, and their 16-year old daughter.

The three of them fled Aleppo in mid-December last year, and were eventually reunited with their orphaned grandson in Turkey. They spent an agonising month on the border waiting for a chance to cross before they managed to reach Turkey only a month ago. Salma*, the eldest daughter who has been living in Turkey for two years, is also in the room with her son who is no older than two.

How CARE helps families

Fatima and her family received assistance from CARE in the first days following their arrival, as part of CARE’s refugee programme in Turkey.

As a vulnerable, newly-arrived family with no means to support themselves, this aid helps pay their rent for three months.

CARE’s monthly assistance also covers their basic food and household needs, through a card they can use to buy what they need from specific shops. Although crucial, this can only cover part of their basic needs, mainly staple foods like rice, sugar and oil, and probably a few vegetables, as well as items like blankets and basic kitchen utensils.

Arriving in winter, they were also supported by CARE through a voucher programme, which helped them purchase blankets, mattresses, and winter clothes.

A meeting of CARE information volunteers in Turkey
CARE and ECHO staff discuss with Syrian refugees, who act as Information Volunteers under the CARE refugee programme to help other refugees to access services

Alaa, the CARE case management coordinator, told me that families who were the last to evacuate Aleppo were usually among the most vulnerable, having experienced the conflict’s everyday effects for years.

I listen to Fatima telling her story, answering our questions, sometimes without being able to hold back her tears. Four of her sons died in the war – one of them next to her during shelling, while she herself was seriously injured.

She describes how life was during the Aleppo besiegement and how they left the city with nothing – their house and car destroyed.

Fatima tells us how she is worried about the future; she, her husband and her remaining son unable to work (as his leg was injured during the war). She is also responsible for a grandson, aged 12, who had lived with an uncle in another Turkish city after being orphaned but has now moved in with them; he is lucky as he managed to quickly enrol in school with assistance from the CARE team.

Getting access to health care

With deep worry painting her face, Fatima describes the difficulties they have in acquiring registration under Temporary Protection – which is important as it is necessary for refugees to access basic essential services such as health care and the new Emergency Social Safety Net cash programme funded by the European Union through its humanitarian aid operations.

This programme targets 30% of the 3 million refugees living in Turkey. The case manager explains to me that this will take months, due to the high number of refugees in Turkey, but that the CARE team will endeavour to support them in the meantime.

My eyes fall on their youngest daughter in the back of the room – she has not spoken at all during our visit and she often rocks back and forth as she sits on the floor.

I am trying to imagine how many times she experienced airstrikes or shelling and I make a mental note to ask my CARE colleague what kind of psychosocial support she could be provided.

In the car on our way back, I ask Alaa his thoughts about the family we visited. We agree on how important it is for newly-arrived refugees to access assistance as quickly possible, like this family.

The CARE programme, funded by the European Union’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), is able to support the family to cover their most urgent needs and support a sense of dignity.

What is important for them during these first months – having left war behind them – is that they are safe as soon as they crossed the borders.

They will continue receiving support from CARE for a few months, after which they may qualify for the additional ESSN assistance. Their older grandson is already in school and gradually a sense of community network and support can be built. The psychologist inside me still worries about the young daughter and the little grandson; the case worker will continue visiting them, linking them with support networks and activities that will provide them with a more ‘normal’, stable life, and they can be referred to specialised services from other organisations.

They are lucky that they have someone like Fatima caring for them – a woman who has suffered a lot, but remains strong. There is hope that they will start smiling again soon.

*names and information may have been changed to protect the identity of the individual

ECHO flag

CARE is grateful to the European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), which is the main funder of our refugee support programme in Turkey.

Christos Papaioannou's picture

Christos Papaioannou is Humanitarian Programme Manager for CARE International UK.