A few days in southern Turkey, in cities which have received Syrian refugees, leaves a complex feeling of both achievements and failures.
Turkey is currently the largest refugee hosting country in the world. More than two million Syrians have arrived over the past four years, and more are arriving as the conflict back home continues unabated. Every day, living conditions inside Syria become more precarious and dangerous.
It’s one of those things you don’t think about until someone specifically brings it up. You don’t think about it partly because it doesn’t seem to be the most urgent need, and partly because you just don’t want to have such an image in your head. It’s a mental picture that’s not easy to get rid of.
“There is nowhere to bury people in Aleppo anymore. The public gardens are all full of bodies.”
The following is Sarnata Reynolds’ testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on the Human Rights of Stateless People on March 23, 2014. A video of the hearing is available here.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Co-Chairs McGovern and Pitts, and the members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for this opportunity to discuss the lives of stateless persons and the profound suffering they endure because they do not have legal identities.
“When we talk to people in the camps and cities, inside Syria and in Turkey, they say it’s ok if we don’t have enough food or health care, but it’s not ok if we don’t have education for our children.”
In early 2014, during peace talks facilitated by the United Nations and the Arab League, the Syrian government and opposition groups reached an agreement to allow some civilians to evacuate the city of Homs after being trapped for more than a year and a half. They also agreed to the delivery of desperately-needed aid. Food supplies had drastically depleted inside the city in the previous months, and families had resorted to eating wild plants and small amounts of insect-infested grains.
In the center of Erbil, northern Iraq, just next to a highway overpass, we met Yezin and his family – refugees from the fighting in neighboring Syria. Nasser himself didn’t get up to greet us. He had been wounded in a mortar attack on his Syrian hometown of Aleppo. The field surgery he had received left a metal plate in his leg that doesn’t allow him to stand or walk on his own any longer. He and his family of seventeen are now living in an abandoned construction lot in Erbil, where it has been hard for humanitarian agencies to find and help them.
When Faud al-Shiekh Sanaa, a gaunt master teacher from Aleppo, made his way to Turkey with throngs of other refugees from Syria in July 2012, he immediately set about registering children for school. Classes back home would have started in September, and there was little time to waste.
By November, with backing from international and Turkish charities, the governor of Kilis Province had presided over the opening of the “Culture Center for Syrians.”
The humanitarian situation in Iraq is once again deteriorating. The siege of Amirli, the humanitarian airdrops to Sinjar – with people so desperate to get out that they fled into Syria – and now Western and Arab airstrikes, have kept all eyes on this tumultuous part of the Middle East.