The pandemic did not make the refugees disappear … it hid them
Just because a pandemic has overshadowed everything, does not mean that pre-existing problems have magically disappeared or been solved. They remain there to torture, torture and test the resilience of people in their quest to survive not from COVID-19, but from hardship, living conditions and security. Issues that a Western society has long since resolved and are no longer a concern.
The main media headlines last year dealt exclusively with the coronavirus pandemic, vaccinations, rescue from a virus, whose mortality according to statistics by force exceeds 2% of confirmed cases.
Fear of illness, restriction of personal freedoms, such as movement and gathering and insecurity about the future at work are the main issues of Western societies, making them even more introverted and causing them to forget basic European principles and values such as .sh. humanity.
The invasion of Europe has removed refugees from the front pages of newspapers and television, but the same people who left their homes because of the conflict remain in the same predicament as before the coronavirus. The only difference that makes their situation worse is that they are forgotten by everyone, or almost everyone.
The journey started from Antakya in Hatay province, about 40 km from the Turkish-Syrian border, to cross one of the few open crossings to Syria near the city of Reyhanli.
First stop at AFAD Regional Headquarters (Turkish Presidency Disaster and Emergency Management Agency). Hatay Eyyüp Deputy Governor Batuhan Ciğerci, AFAD Regional Officer, briefed the news team on the organisation’s activities in building 7,500 houses with the necessary infrastructure for internally displaced Syrian refugees when their homes were vacated. at the center of the armed conflict The 27-year-old Deputy Governor speaks passionately about this project, something that became apparent later during our visit to the AFAD settlements.
The money for the construction of houses and infrastructure comes from donations, he explains. Donations from Turkish citizens and not from the state budget. The Syrians work in construction for a fee and all the building materials as well as the necessary utensils are from the local market, thus strengthening the local economy which is collapsing.
The next stop of the press mission is one of the centers of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), where humanitarian aid trucks leave for Syrian refugees in Syria and the Idlib region.
The trucks lined up in the courtyard, which is protected by high walls, mostly with Syrian license plates, were loaded by Syrian workers here for a fee, IBNA told Paul Thomas, deputy head of OCHA’s office in Turkey. More than 50 trucks make the Reyhanli route to Syria every day with more than 20,000 trips completed in 2020. We take pictures, but the UN asks us to hide the faces and license plates of the trucks for security reasons. The concrete barricades in front of the UN office remind us that even a few kilometers away inside Syrian territory nothing is considered safe.
Our next stop is the Cilvegözü border crossing. Humanitarian aid trucks form a line as a citizen holding a wheelchair in a wheelchair crosses towards Syria. We stop and change the car. We are getting ready to board a small bus again, but this time its interior is different. Armored weapon. Large windows that are visible from the outside are small square windows inside as if they were inside a tank. Two armed men have been added to our security escort. The Dutch colleague is more prepared as he carries his bulletproof vest in which the words press are written, while in the belt he carries an ambulance bag.
We have already crossed into Syrian territory and the landscape is changing. The stone hills dominate right and left while trucks are the only vehicles we encounter and there are also motorcycles appearing near the settlements.
The towns and villages that were once here have disappeared among the tens of thousands of tents, as well as houses built by AFAD and Turkish NGOs that coordinate and undertake the accommodation of refugees at home.
AFAD coordinates the Red Crescent, as well as NGOs, IHH, Deniz Feneri Association, Turkish Religious Foundation, Aziz Mahmud Hüdai Foundation, Fetih-Der, Sadakataşı, Yedi Başak Association, Hayrat Humanitarian Aid Association, Beşir Association, Tu Kiryamr Der, and deddef.
Operation AFAD and the Red Crescent aims to create about 53,000 homes that will house more than 300,000 refugees. The distribution of houses is based on criteria and is provided free of charge. So far, 28,000 homes have been built, with the rest to be handed over in the near future. More than 2,000 Syrian workers are working on housing construction, while so far more than 18,000 families have been resettled.
The stops are consecutive, to take a closer look at the settlements that have been created. The first image is from the hill Kah Ahrabat where the Atmeh refugee camp lies with the irregular layout of houses and tents. The next stop is in the Meshed Ruhin area where AFAD and the Turkish Red Crescent have established two settlements in different locations. The AFAD residence, which houses people with disabilities and their families, is full of life, while the Red Crescent houses are waiting for the first residents until the end of February.
In the area of Der Hassan, which was the next stop, we saw the buildings under construction, while at last we visited a refugee camp in the area of Hezreh, who still live in tents, in tragic living conditions. According to AFAD people, no refugees should stay in tents for more than 2 months and be transferred home, but this is not possible, as a result of which they stay in tents for years.
Throughout this journey accompanied by soldiers, with unknown identities, to our safety, the absence of the West and Europe was deafening. Maybe they were in other areas and we did not see them. Maybe. Although it seems impossible for the EU not to leave its mark wherever it goes.