Turkey: Diversified Aid to Support the Lives of Refugees in the City

Nine years have passed since the Syrian conflict started in March 2011. The number of Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey (the neighboring country) and who are unclear if and when they will be able to return home has exceeded 3.6 million people (as of August 2019) and continues to rise. Since the capacity of refugee camps run by the Turkish government is limited, about 95% of the refugees live in cities or villages.

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, attracts the largest number of Syrian refugees in the nation as refugees seek better jobs and quality of life. There are over half a million registered refugees in Istanbul. AAR Japan is active in the Esenyurt District, which is a district with one of the lowest rents amongst the cities and attracts many refugees. At the Esenyurt District, there are many people who face difficulties in terms of illness, disability, employment, children's education, and the economy. Sawako Sakagami from the AAR Japan’s Tokyo office reports on AAR Japan’s activities in the Esenyurt District.

We enjoyed face painting at the picnic (August 2018)

Harsh Circumstances Surrounding Refugees

 In 2014, the Turkish government introduced a Temporary Protection Regulation in response to the surge in Syrian refugees. By registering with this system, Syrian refugees could receive free medical, educational, welfare and other services in Turkey. Although such service protocols had been implemented, the supply of services struggled to meet the demands from the increasing number of refugees. Other challenges that cause a slowdown in access to aid include refugees’ lack of knowledge on available services, communication issues at administrative offices and hospitals because the refugees cannot speak Turkish, and lack of support services that cater to each refugee’s particular circumstances. Many challenges exist.

In addition, the tension between refugees and local residents increases day by day as rent and food prices hike and job competition increase in areas like Istanbul where many refugees have fled to. In recent years, there has been increasing conflict between the refugees and local residents and the circumstances surrounding refugees continues to become more uncomfortable as the refugee life gets prolonged.

 AAR Japan’s local staff visit refugee camps one by one (June 2019)

Listening to the Voices of the Unheard

There are many refugees in the Esenyurt District who are suffering but have nobody to consult with. In order to provide information on administrative services to these people, AAR Japan makes door-to-door visits to refugees, offers phone consultation services, and raises awareness to disseminate knowledge on how to apply for the Temporary Protection Regulation, and educate them on the Turkish law and on the applications and procedures related to the receipt of medical, educational, and welfare services.

During the door-to-door visits, we visit refugee households one by one to provide information and listen to each person's problems. At first glance, it may seem that all refugees face similar challenges, but after visiting each household, it is evident that circumstances are unique to each person and household. For example, there are people who have lost their leg during conflict but have not received adequate treatment, people whose illnesses have worsened because they are unable to go to the hospital, people who have been unable to find a job and  have exhausted their resources to cover living expenses, and children who support their families by engaging in dangerous jobs for long periods of time instead of going to school. These individuals and families face varied challenges.

AAR Japan provides aid to those in need including translation services and administrative support services at hospitals, psychological counseling by clinical psychologists, and provision of welfare equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers or rehabilitation services by physical therapists for persons with disabilities. In addition, AAR Japan, in cooperation with government agencies and other organizations, provides services such as livelihood support and support to enable children to attend school, which are intended to be tailored to the needs of each individual.

Listening to each refugee’s livelihood concerns and providing consultations (May 2019)

Aid that is Customized to Refugees’ Circumstances. The Smile that Ahmed Showed

 Ahmed (alias, 5 years old) underwent surgery because he was born with cerebral palsy and his feet  rolled inwards. The ankle foot orthosis (a brace that supports walking while correcting the deformation of the foot) provided by the hospital was not well suited and he was unable to walk and was left with a disability. When an AAR Japan staff paid a visit, Ahmed's mother had passed away from cancer three months ago, so his grandmother and aunt lived with and supported Ahmed. His father struggled to find a job and the family only had a monthly living allowance of less than 10,000 yen provided by the government, which barely covered food expense for the four of them.

AAR Japan provided Ahmed with a custom-fit ankle foot orthosis and rehabilitation regimen provided by a physical therapist. Ahmed began to smile after his motor functions began to improve and he could walk little by little. In addition, with the support of AAR Japan's interpreter staff, Ahmed was able to apply for disability benefits from the government office to reduce the financial burden on his family. We also introduced Ahmed's father to an organization that specializes in employment support and we are now working with him to find an employment opportunity as soon as possible. AAR Japan provides support tailored to each individual.

Ahmed has been on a rehabilitation regimen provide by AAR Japan’s physical therapist and is slowly starting to walk (June 2019)

Striving for a Community where Refugees and Local Residents Support Each Other

AAR Japan supports building communities comprised of refugees and local residents. Many refugees, who have lost their families, friends and local communities due to conflict, live without mutually beneficial relations. Especially in large cities like Istanbul, there are few supportive neighborhood communities, and daily interaction among refugees are limited. In particular, persons with disabilities are in isolation, with few opportunities for access to education or work and have never been able to step outside after having been evacuated to Turkey because of prejudice and discrimination.

For this reason, AAR Japan supports self-help group activities led by persons with disabilities and their families by supporting the formation of and activities organized by such community committees comprised of refugees and local residents. Through our activities, we strive to promote social participation by refugees with disabilities and their families and the creation of communities where refugees and local residents can support each other.

As part of the self-help group initiative, persons with disabilities and their families organize picnics and other recreational activities and hold events regularly. Through such events, participants share their daily worries and gradually create support networks.

A picnic organized for children with disabilities and their families, who have few opportunities to spend time outside (August 2018)
The community committee activities consider the daily problems faced by refugees as "local issues." Refugees and residents work together to design solutions to solve problems. For example, the refugees voiced that the main issues in the region included “language,” “means of livelihood,” and “discrimination.” Initially we discussed how to relay information about Turkish language learning classes, how to make things that would generate income, and other solutions that participants could implement on their own.

In the future, we would like to divide participants into groups where each group would develop practical solutions to problems and topics that had been raised. In certain cases, some groups may face challenges such as taking a long time to sort through opinions and ideas or a proposing solutions that are not realistic. However, we hope that communities will gradually begin to support each other as refugees and residents come together to resolve common issues and identify their roles in a mutually beneficial relationship.

At the community committee, we share the day-to-day challenges faced by refugees and discuss solutions that can be implemented locally (August 2019)
Many Syrian refugees live anxiously in Turkey as their repatriation date is unclear. Despite these circumstances, refugees who have been supported by AAR Japan have indicated that “our lives have gotten brighter,” and participants of self-help groups and community committees mentioned that “we hope that [AAR Japan] will continue to assist in strengthening the relations between refugees and local residents." AAR Japan will continue to work to support the lives of each refugee and to create communities where refugees and local residents can support each other.


She has volunteered at refugee camps in Uganda since she was an undergraduate student. After graduating from university, she worked for a private company and obtained a social work license. She joins AAR Japan in August 2017 after working at a Non-Profit Organization (NPO) which supports vulnerable persons. She is from Saitama Prefecture.

Japanese-English translation by Ms. Mami USUI
English editing by KG
This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.