Still no place like home for Syrian refugees

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 22 May 2016

Home away from home: Ahmad Hassan (right) and his family inside their temporary cabin home .

ABOUT four years ago, Ahmad Hassan Makur made a very difficult but important decision in his life. Together with his pregnant wife Khadijah Hassad and 10-year-old son, they decided to flee conflict-ridden Syria, leaving behind their oldest son and beloved country.

Today, the close-knit family is living a simple but happy and peaceful life, better than they could have ever imagined.

Unlike back in 2011 in Syria when fear and uncertainty were the order of the day. When gunfights and mortar bombs were all but a daily occurrence.

Knowing there was no future as long as the war raged on, Ahmad Hassan got a relative to send all three of them to Gaziantep – the border between Turkey and Syria – about 45km away.

After the papers and verifications, they were accepted into the Nizip refugee camp, which the Turkish government prefers to call “temporary accommodation centre.”

This was the start of their promising new journey. Khadijah, 46, soon gave birth to a daughter. She is now an exuberant four-year-old, attending pre-school education in the confines of the camp. Her elder sibling, aged 14 now, is in a school next to hers.

Security is not an issue here. Police and military personnel are on patrol around the clock. The camp, built on an area of 145,000sq m, has barbed wires encircling it and a CCTV system to prevent any illegal intrusions.

“We are happy here. Alhamdulillah (Praise to God) my young children are getting a good education. We are content and there is nothing more we could ask for,” says Ahmad Hassan in Arabic.

We communicated through an interpreter; Star Media Group was the only media organisation from Malaysia invited by the Turkish government to visit the refugee camp.

“My only worry is my eldest son, who decided to stay back and look after our home in Aleppo.

“Of course, I wish he could join us here but he is old enough to care for himself and stay out of trouble,” he continues.

Ahmad Hassan, now 50, produces electrical gadgets and kitchen parts for a living. His wife takes care of the children.

Theirs is a container or cabin home. Each cabin is about 21sq m in size and can fit between five and 10 occupants, complete with hot and cold shower, air-conditioner, ventilator and fridge.

There are 908 containers, and the camp is already at full capacity.

According to the camp’s general manager Demir Ibrahim, no more refugees can be accepted.

There are now 4,829 occupants at the camp, comprising 1,042 men, 1,193 women and 2,594 children. They are being cared for by 220 staff members.

“Three months ago, we took in the last batch of six families. If there are more refugees crossing over, then they would be sent to other camps.

“We accept all Syrian refugees with open arms to enable them to start life anew. No discrimination,” says Demir.

The Emergency and Disaster Management Authority (AFAD) under the Prime Minister’s Office is in charge of all the 25 refugee camps in Turkey.

Opened on Feb 11, 2013, Nizip is one of the five camps in Gaziantep, providing shelter to mostly Syrian refugees. All camps have full-fledged facilities and services such as schools, mosque, social centres, public parks, libraries, laundry rooms, salons, clinic and supermarkets, among others.

“Every month, each refugee will be given an AFAD-issued card with a cash value of 85 Turkish Lira (RM116).

“They can buy groceries at the supermarket,” tells Demir.

Each refugee receives the same treatment as a Turkish citizen. Children are enrolled in pre-school with Arabic or Turkish as the medium of instruction, pregnant mothers provided with pre- and post-natal care, while university students are given government scholarships.

Even the deceased are accorded special rights. And if there is a request, the remains will be sent back to the border.

There is no condition attached to staying in the camp.

Those who wish to leave the camp for a short period for whatever reason, need only leave their fingerprints with the authorities.

“No one will be forced to stay here. Just fill up a form and they can walk out and not return,” adds Demir.

For Ahmad Hassan, however, it has never crossed his mind to leave.

Until and unless the fighting stops, there is no point in leaving, he asserts, “Yes, I wish to go back home one day and reunite with my son. But not now. It is still not safe.”

His fervent hope is for the United Nations to exert more pressure, find a middle ground and help resolve the crisis.

Since the civil war started in 2011, the United Nations estimated that over 250,000 Syrians have been killed.

As of March this year, 4.8 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.6 million people are displaced internally.

The on-going violence against civilians has been condemned by many countries including the United States and the European Union. There is still no solution in sight to end the protracted war.

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