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The Unregistered Syrian Refugees

The Unregistered Syrian Refugees

There are more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. GOAL's David Adams hears the story of some of the unregistered refugees living there.

I want to go home but I can't; I don't want to stay here, but I have to remain

There are more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, of whom 1 million are registered with the Turkish authorities. Of these, 250,000 are staying in 25 custom-built refugee camps. In the camps the people have shelter, food, water, and sanitation facilities. The other 750,000 are living and working within the host community, largely absorbed into Turkish society.

All registered refugees receive free medical care.

For a variety of reasons, some of which I'll touch on later, a further 620,000 Syrian refugees remain unregistered. These people exist on the outer reaches of Turkish society, surviving as best they can.

Mohammed and his family are from Aleppo. They've been in Turkey for 15 months and are unregistered. Before fleeing Syria, they ran a bakery in the centre of Aleppo City. Nowadays, the men and boys collect and sort through garbage, and try to sell whatever might be reusable.

Mohammed's extended family has 30 members (mother, father, brothers, wives, and 15 children) who share 4 rooms. Another brother and his family stayed behind in Aleppo. He was killed soon after the others left.

"On a good day, between us we can earn around 15 Turkish Lira (€5:00)," Mohammed tells me. "Sometimes we earn nothing. One of the children is sick at the moment, and so is one of the women, but we can't afford medical care. We already owe money for rent and electricity. Feeding the children is our main priority."

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Fatima, a diminutive woman, is a widow, her husband having died of natural causes before the conflict in Syria began. She and her youngest (and only remaining) child, a boy of 16, arrived in Turkey 13 months ago. They too are unregistered. They fled the constant shelling of their village, situated in a rural part of Idlib Governorate, after Fatima's other two sons were killed. The village was finally reduced to rubble. No one lives there now.

Fatima and her son live in a former storeroom at an animal-fodder factory that is only occasionally operational.

"I am ashamed of this place," she says of the storeroom, "I had a lovely home back in the village. I am ashamed that I cannot even offer you food and tea. Sometimes I cry at night, I feel so ashamed."

Fatima has suffered from asthma since she was a girl.

"I have no money for the medicines I need. My son is out looking for work, as he does every day. Sometimes he gets a couple of days work with a farmer, or in the factory. But any money he can earn must go towards buying food."

"It is so cold here in winter, I think I will eventually freeze to death. We don't even have a toilet. I want to go home but I can't; I don't want to stay here, but I have to remain."

"I have only my faith to sustain me."

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There are numerous reasons why so many Syrian refugees are unregistered in Turkey.

The language barrier; not knowing the system; an ungrounded fear of being forced to return to Syria if they come forward; and reluctance to take a step that to them suggests a permanence to their situation, are just some of the reasons.

Probably the major cause is that Turkey has barely been able to cope with the tidal wave of refugees that has flowed across her border from Syria over the past 4 years. Much less keep track of every individual.

To their eternal credit, the Turkish government, local authorities, NGOs, and general public have all been magnificent in their response to the plight of the Syrian people. But no country could possibly absorb without problems 1.6 million refugees within such a short space of time. It is well nigh miraculous that Turkey has managed so well.

Yet she has received neither the credit nor the help she deserves. As a consequence, neither have 260,000 Syrian refugees.

The Turkish NGO, Support To Life, is providing assistance to Mohammed and his family and to Fatima and her son.

By David Adams, GOAL Media and Communications Officer

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