The orphans of Syria’s war


Hatay, Turkey – As Syria’s civil war continues into its sixth year with no end in sight, more than 2.7 million Syrians have fled the violence in their home towns and crossed the border into Turkey. While some find themselves in refugee camps, others have moved across into pockets of Turkey.

Jabal, an impoverished neighbourhood in the southernmost Turkish province of Hatay, is one such pocket. This neighbourhood, 40km away from the Turkish/Syrian border, is now home to hundreds of widows and orphans who are trying to reconcile the loss of land and loved ones in Syria.

Most refugee families have arrived in Turkey with few possessions and have few prospects of earning a livelihood within Turkey. The Turkish government has made attempts to address the influx of refugees outside refugee camps by providing free basic services such as medical care and schooling.

However, for displaced widows and children, often living in derelict accommodation with no source of income and fast approaching the end of their life savings, the daily fight for survival is real.

Close to half of the 2.7 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey are children. Ibrahim (age 2) and his family now live in Jabal, an impoverished neighbourhood, nestled at the foot of a mountain in Hatay.

Only 200,000 of the 2.7 million Syrian refugees can be accommodated in refugee camps in Turkey. Those with life savings or access to funds like Asma’s (age one) family live in tiny rented apartments across Hatay. Asma’s family has been living in Hatay in a state of limbo for the past three years. No one in her family has been able to find employment in Turkey.

Many families such as Marian’s, Ziya’s and Jenna’s have to share accommodation due to limited funds. The three cousins have been living under the same roof for the past three years. Neither of their families has been able to find work in Turkey and they are now struggling to make ends meet. Despite the volatile situation in Syria, Ziya’s family are forced to move back there next month to find work.

While employment within Turkey is hard to come by, some refugees in Hatay have been able to find work at local factories. Mohammed’s 12-year-old sister Fatima* is the breadwinner of her family. She is about to quit school to work at a local factory on a full-time basis for $20 a week.

Ahmed’s mother, unable to find formal work, knits and sews to bring in a meagre income which she uses to support their family. Earlier this year, 30 members of Ahmed’s family lost their lives in a drone strike that hit their village in Syria.

Latest estimates suggest that two-thirds of refugee children outside camps in Turkey do not attend school. Although schooling is free, many families cannot afford the $12 monthly bus fare required to travel to school and back. Maria (age 11) is one of the fortunate ones whose family has been able to spare the money for her bus fare. She is top of her class.

Samina (age four) is the youngest of eight children. Her 19-year-old sister is leaving school next month to get married. Her fiancé is a widower whose wife was killed in a drone strike in Syria earlier this year.

Huda was born with phocomelia, a rare congenital disorder affecting the development of both her hands. Owing to the limited medical services available during the war, Huda was only able to receive the necessary surgery to improve her hand mobility in Turkey, earlier this year.

Saleh and his family have been waiting for approval for their application for asylum to Canada for the past year. His grandmother suffers from a chronic illness and hopes she will receive better medical treatment in Canada.

Many of the Syrians living in Jabal are widows and orphans of war. Umar (age four) lost his father and uncle on the frontlines. Both men were in their 30s.

Isa’s father, like so many others, was killed on the battlefield. Isa (age two) is now the oldest male in his family.

Yusuf and Abdullah live with their mother and grandmother in a rented room in Jabal. Their mother and grandmother are both widows of war.

Aadam is an orphan of war. His father died fighting Assad forces before Aadam was born and when Aadam was 3, his mother was tortured to death in one of Assad’s prisons. His grandmother, with whom he now lives, fought hard to get him across the Turkish-Syrian border after the 2015 closures. He wants to be a pilot one day.

Abdullah’s father disappeared. Reports of him being tortured in prison have surfaced but like so many others in Syria, his fate is still unknown.