Straddling continents, Turkey is both a destination and major crossroads for refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia awaiting resettlement or hoping to reach Europe. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
Ankara, 28 January 2013 – As the numbers of refugees entering Turkey rose to unprecedented numbers in 2012, JRS is focusing its services on reaching out to highly vulnerable refugee populations, such as Afghanis or Iranians. At the same time, Iraqis, who have been doubly displaced by fleeing first to Syria, and then to Turkey, are placed in highly vulnerable circumstances. During recent home visits, families of refugees shared their stories with JRS about how they came to be in Turkey.

All stories are the refugees' own accounts.

Afghan Mohamedi Musai and his family. Ten years ago I fled to Iran with my wife and son because of the war in Afghanistan. We stayed there until a few months ago when we heard that living conditions of refugees in Turkey were better: with housing, education services and medical coverage provided and most importantly, the possibility to be resettled relatively quickly in a third country. Based on this information, we came to Turkey but we were surprised to learn that none of these things were true.

Instead, we were forced to sleep on the streets after learning the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) could not help us get accommodation or food. Since we arrived in Turkey we have had to deal with all these daily issues by ourselves. The biggest problem is that we came here with very little money. Slowly, with the help of the Afghan community, we have started to look for solutions.

In order to cut costs, up to six families share one apartment, which usually means two families live in one room. There is no other way of getting by in Turkey; without any knowledge of Turkish we can't find jobs, or communicate easily with local people. Fortunately our neighbours help us, providing us bed sheets and simple household supplies. Turkish police officers also try to help us acquire residency permits so we can stay here legally.

Our hope, dream, is that one day we can live like human beings: with food to eat, warm houses to come home to and education for our children.

Iranian Sayeed and his family. The only country which would give me a visa was Turkey. I arrived here three years ago with my wife and 10-year-old daughter because I couldn't have continued my life in Iran.

I became a refugee here. When I came I had high hopes because the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) accepted my file quickly; but since then hardly any countries have agreed to look at my application for resettlement. I was hoping to go to another country but I can now see that is not likely to happen.

I feel secure in Turkey – the police don't follow me – but at the same time I have so many psychological issues since I can't see a future for my family here. I'm not allowed to work legally and that makes life very difficult, especially when I think about my daughter.

Iraqi Zeyneb and her five children. I was living in peace with my husband and five children in Iraq until the war began in 2003. Iraqi people started killing each other because of their religious differences. On one black day a bomb exploded near our home and shooting started, I got caught in the crossfire and was wounded. When I woke in the hospital, I realised I had lost my feet and arm. When my husband saw me, he didn't want me anymore…

At this point I realised I couldn't live in Iraq anymore and must flee. I thought Syria would be the best solution since they speak the same language and I hoped to get some help there. Two of my children are very sick: one is mentally handicapped and the other has severe speech difficulties.

I stayed in Syria for five years until the conflict erupted. Iraqi women were being kidnapped from the streets and I became very worried about my daughters. I decided to come to Turkey especially because I had heard that the UNHCR office and Turkish government helps refugees. Yet, the actual situation is very different from what I expected: no help and no opportunities for my children to receive education or medical care, which are priorities for me.

The hope I had when coming to Turkey, was to be resettled to a third country. I hear it is very difficult for Iraqis who came from Syria, but I cling to that dream.

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