It has been almost a month since I presented “Diversity in Unity: Reflections from Turkey” at our ISH-DC resident salon, with my other fellow Turkish residents. One of the main topics that we discussed were conditions of Syrian Refugees in Turkey and the new agreement between the EU and Turkey on funding Syrian refugees in the country . Since it is a really hot topic and many people from ISH, especially my European friends, were extremely curious, I decided to dig deeper and share more about this crisis. Hence, on April 27, I attended the Boren Forum’s Panel about the current refugee crisis. I learned so many key facts about the crisis happening right now, but am ashamed how little I still know about it.
The first panelist was Mrs. Alina Haddad, of Doctor without a Border, a brave young women who accomplished so much such in women’s economic empowerment and humanitarian issues in Yemen. Alina took attention of the audience by explaining the problems that they encountered in Jordan, such as the difficulty of having access to fresh clean water. Jordan has one of the largest Syrian refugee population in the world. Nevertheless, they are world’s third drought country. Water is expensive. ‘If you cannot fill the water tank at your garden, you have to pay more to fill,’ said Alina. ‘And what happens if you just don’t have any money to fill that?’
Mrs. Burcu Erdogdu-Tuncer, our second panelist, was a diplomat from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs who currently serves as a Political Counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC. Mrs. Erdogdu-Tuncer provided a lot of up-to-date information about the TPC’s (Temporary Protection Center) of Turkey, or generally known as ‘refugee camps’. Perhaps the most important fact about the camps was the number of refugees that live in there – only 270,000 people. The number of refugees that Turkey hosts alone are over 3 million, and everyday 3,000 people flee from Syria.
Turkey has provided $10 billion in assistance since the breakout of the crisis. This incredible amount of money not only makes the country the biggest donor, but it also puts an incredible economic burden on the government. Given the fact that the Turkish Lira has experienced the worst devaluation of all times in 2015 against the US dollar, and the biggest loser among other currencies, the large current account deficit and the large inflation rate, Turkey alone could not face the problem anymore. Hence the EU promised to provide $3 billion Turkey for assistance, and for what in turn, we will all see with time.
Most of this money, said Mrs. Erdogdu-Tuncer, is going to be used for the education of the refugee children in camps, and in overall Turkey to ensure that we are not creating a ‘lost generation’. Those children of today will be the adults of tomorrow who will rebuild their country, and their education is utterly important.
Mr. Omar Hossino, director of public Relations of Syrian American Council, is one of the most prominent activists in the US who is working with Syrian refugees on daily basis. Building bridges with congress and policy makers with refugees is a hard task but a must do. Mr. Omar discussed their work in the last couple of years, such as obtaining every Rabbi in the US (yes, every one of them) to persuade the decision makers to open borders for more refugees. Nevertheless, it is getting harder to persuade the leaders of society to have mercy with Syrian Refugees. For example, the mayor of Maryland has refused to talked with the SAC about the settlement of the immigrants.
However, the climax of the panel for me was when Mr. Mohammed Harba, a Syrian refugee from Damascus whose family was resettled in Washington by International Rescue Committee, arrived and talked about his recent ‘survival’ from the war with his family. Mr. Harba started his talk with a warm ‘Shukran’ and his happiness could be read from his face. Nevertheless, he was feeling ‘guilty and ashamed’ being in the comfortable environment of DC while his friends and some of his family were still living in hard conditions back in Jordan. He continued with his story while touching each person’s heart in the hall. He talked about how he lost his 27 year old son in front of his eyes while they were crossing the border, how they were smuggled by one of those ‘death boats’. But he was trying to take our attention to one fact that Syrian refugees are ‘good’, ‘thankful’, and ready to provide economic assistance to the society if a chance is given. The ‘opportunity’ part of the panel was this fact.
I respect Mr. Harba from the bottom of my heart, and all other fathers that are living for their children, I gave him a big warm smile as I was applauding and he responded with a big smile that I will never forget. Let’s hope that people like Mrs. Alina, Mrs. Burcu, Mr. Omar, Mr.Sushil, Mr. Yenal and Sinem will increase in number and we will learn more about the conditions of Syrian refugees from the Boren Forum and many others in order to understand and assist them better in the future.