Syrian Refugees: “If not for your help, all hope is lost.”

Syrian Refugees: “If not for your help, all hope is lost.”

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Mary Kate MacIsaac

With few options, Syrian refugees require assistance as they await return to destroyed homes

Last fall, as conflict spread across communities in the northern Aleppo governorate of Syria, Nabi Ibrahim and his wife Alifa, gathered what they could and with their son’s family, fled their ancestral home of Kobane (Ayn el Arab) and with thousands of others, crossed the border into Turkey. In just a few weeks, an estimated 194,000 Syrians fled Kobane, seeking refuge in neighboring Turkey. CARE responded immediately, distributing emergency aid including blankets, food and hygiene items.

Today, as the conflict in Syria advances and recedes, some Syrians have dared return to what remains of their homes, while others, their lives devastated by the ongoing war, remain in Turkey. According to the UN, Syrian refugees in Turkey now number over 1.7 million. Nabi Ibrahim and Alifa and their family are among them.

They live in one small store front, among many others, part of an unfinished business complex in a town around 50 kilometers from the border. There are three families, 19 people in total, squeezed into this space no larger than a living room. Approximately 550 people have been living in these shops, with only five latrines to share among them, two of which are broken.

“Our home was beautiful, sweet, there was no comparison,” says the grandfather, Nabi Ibrahim, who fled Syria with his brother, his son, and their families. “But our house was destroyed in the fighting. It was three floors. Now it is gone. Here we are living in such bad circumstances. We have no kitchen, no proper bathroom, no education for the children. It’s a very difficult life.”  

With the support of the European Union and German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CARE has helped Nabi’s family to access food and hygiene items such as soap, jerry cans, toothpaste and toothbrushes, even where necessary, adult diapers. In addition to support for specific hygiene needs, every month CARE provides each family with vouchers worth 48 Turkish lira, or $18 per person that the family exchanges at nearby shops for food or other products they prioritize, whether children’s diapers, milk, eggs, or fresh fruit.

Life remains a daily struggle though for urban refugees who receive little if any assistance. CARE has worked in more than 50 towns and villages across two districts, filling gaps in communities where refugees have been overlooked. With help from community leaders, or muhtars, and local authorities, CARE staff identify pockets of urban refugees who have received little or no assistance. “In some situations, we have found four or five families sharing a very poor condition apartment or shelter. Many are living in unfinished buildings, such as shops, barns or what can best be described as building sites,” says Chloe Day, a CARE program manager based in Gaziantep. 

“It’s not safe for them to return to Kobane yet,” she explains. “But many families are finding it hard to cope and see return as the best option in own their cases.”  

After identifying underserved refugee communities, CARE staff oversee regular aid distributions. “There’s a concept of sustained support,” Day says. “We listen to them, and we return. They feel that with CARE there’s a chance their voices will be heard.” CARE has supported this community with repeated distributions, the training of information volunteers, and awareness raising sessions on topics that range from hygiene promotion, to psychosocial support and early marriage.

Community members have expressed an appreciation for the information volunteers, asking several when they will visit their home again. There’s an important psychosocial element that staff recognize as serving not just individuals, but the society as a whole. Day recalls one refugee’s encouraging comments: “We came from Kobane and hid ourselves in these houses. We didn’t know the language, we didn’t know where to go – but since the information volunteers have come, we have come out of the houses and into the light. We are able to communicate again despite all we have suffered.”

Sharing information through CARE’s cadre of volunteers has encouraged community feedback, increased accountability to the community, and permitted refugees to discuss difficult topics that they have generally avoided. Volunteers stress the psychosocial value for a community that through dialogue and learning is better equipping itself to care for its members. People who once lived in isolation, are realizing they are part of a society, that they have the power to support themselves and make positive change in their communities.

Still, most refugees think about when they will return to their lives in Kobane. Nabi Ibrahim is no different. He sent his son to check on their home and property back in Syria. “Most houses in Kobane are destroyed,” Nabi says, each word more punctuated than the last. “Our house in Kobane is destroyed, too. There are dead bodies, dead animals in many of the houses. There is no food there, no fuel, no doctors. This is not where I can take my family right now.” The old man shakes his head slowly.

“We know neighbors who have returned to Kobane,” he adds. “People go to Kobane, but many of them return to Turkey.” A granddaughter is grasping his leg, but he looks south towards Syria.  

“We don’t know what our future is. The international community and people like you will continue to help us, we hope.  If not for your help, all hope is lost.”


Nabi Ibrahim sits with his wife and nephews outside the storefront where the family settled after fleeing Kobane last fall. ©2015 Mary Kate MacIsaac/CARE