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 Children  Turkey Project #35637

Support Refugee Babies 2018-2019

by Support to Life (STL) Hayata Destek Dernegi
Support Refugee Babies 2018-2019

Selma, mother of two, would like to tell her story… And how the birth of her second son Valid could easilyhave been complicated if circumstanced hadn’t changed.


I and my husband Yakup Arrived in Turkey 7 years ago, from the small town of Darbasiya, that’s right across Mardin’s Kzltepe. A few years earlier, before all the violence, my husband’s parents had migrated there. When the war started nearing our doorstep, we had no choice but to hit the road. Our lives were okay before the war. I was going to school, we had our own piece of land. Who wants to leave their land and go somewhere entirely alien?

We are here now but my family is still there, I can’t visit because the border is closed. I wonder if I will ever see them again… Sometimes we get to speak on the phone. They tell me 2 hours a day is all the electricity they get, they tell me it gets very cold. They tell me even bread is expensive…

Doesn’t sound like much to miss but here it is an entirely different set of problems. Receiving my official temporary protection status was a huge challenge for me. I hadn’t worked by the time I was about to give birth to my second child. We went to a private hospital and two, but the sums they charged was much more than what we could afford. Then, just by sheer luck, I read about Support to Life somewhere, I read that they were doing work on maternal health. My neighbours suggested that I visit Support to Life and explain my situation, they told me maybe they could help.

I spoke to them and explained my situation. They immediately initiated the process for our family to obtain their IDs. I had already missed half my periodic pregnancy check-ups and they didn’t want to waste any more time. They quickly made it work and I could receive medical attention.

It is not just that too… There is also the bureaucratic side of it. Population registry and those… I could register my son Valid as a member of our family thanks to these IDs. How else could we be a proper family? These things matter, especially after what we’ve been through... when we have so little to feel secure about. Now my biggest ideal is to make sure both my kids receive a sound education.

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Ala and Suad are originally from Sinjar, Iraq. They came to Turkey through Syria in 2015 with their two children. Suad was working in the construction sector, he could receive his pay on time, they had relatives nearby so they had a relatively stable living. Their third child, Mustafa, was born here in Mersin 18 months ago. And this is when things became complicated for the family.

As a piece of background info, you should know that in Turkey, while Iraqi refugees are registered under ‘international protection’ status, Syrian refugees are registered under ‘temporary protection status. Thus, being of Iraqi origin, Ala and Suad’s family was registered under ‘international protection’.

Ala explains that, when Mustafa was born and registered, she noticed that his protection ID looked different than theirs. And she thought ‘Oh, as he is born here, maybe he just became a Turkish citizen!’ and sensed a bittersweet joy that her son would perhaps have a safe future guaranteed no matter how events unfolded back home. This was not the case though…

Only later on, when Mustafa was already a few months old and got sick, that this mistake was noticed. A staff member at the hospital noticed that the child, despite being Iraqi, had a temporary protection ID. Local authorities were informed and as it happened, the family was fined for ‘forgery.’ On top of it, Mustafa lost his status and thus a there was a hospital fee to be paid! This is when they family contacted Support to Life. As soon as being notified, STL got in touch with all relevant parties – the registration office, the hospital, the bar association. Necessary documentation was issued to clarify the situation and once it became clear that this was simply an administrative error that took place at the population office, the hospital bill was cancelled, Mustafa’s status was corrected and the fine was cancelled.

We encounter this all too often, an official ‘status,’ simple as it may sound, is highlight deterministic in the lives of refugees and is open to all sorts of complications. This is why, our case management teams work in 9 different locations of Turkey, ready to respond to urgent matters, help refugees navigate formalities and bureaucratic complications.

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Here at Support to Life, we operate with full financial and operational transparency. In this vein, we’ve recently completed our Annual Report covering all our activities throughout 2018(English version available on our website soon). Thus in this report, I will use the opportunity to provide all supporters with a recap of the range of activities we’ve implemented to support refugee babies in Turkey.

First off, we start with the baby care packs, which are an integral part of the project we raise funds for here. Throughout 2018, we’ve been able to provide baby care packs for a total of 204 mothers and their babies. That’s more than $14,000 worth of baby care items that have reached directly those who need them the most.

But this is just a “first step” assistance. Let us now forget that the Syrian War is in its 9th year now and has caused a situation we refer to as “prolonged displacement.” Individuals and families that had to leave their homes due to war began new lives in Turkey and other surrounding countries. Children born back in those early years are now at schooling age. Thus, we care a great deal about facilitating their access to education services. In this context, throughout 2018, we’ve provided “school packs” to 560 children. Inside the backpacks we provided, they found stationary items such as pens, pencils and notebooks.

In addition, we helped 1239 children enroll to school. Simple as it may sound, enrollment processes are easily complicated for Syrians for either bureaucratic reasons or due to the family’s pressing need to maximize the labor potential of their families – resorting to “negative coping mechanisms” such as child labor.

Our support did not end there either, we provided tutoring support for children who have difficulty keeping up with their classes. Even after enrollment, Syrian youth often find it difficult to keep up with their peers due to social cohesion issues, language difficulties or war trauma. In this domain, we helped 789 children with their studies.

Meanwhile, we target parents as well; sensitizing them about the negative effects of child labor, importance of schooling, the hazards of early marriages.

With your support, we continue our activities in 2019. We seek to ensure that, in the prolonged displacement situation that the Syrian crisis is, no kid is left behind.

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Delizia Flaccavento, Mersin, 2019
Delizia Flaccavento, Mersin, 2019

Elvin is 30 years old, married and has two children – Eflin and Aden. They live in Kazanli, where farming (especially greenhouses) is the main source of livelihood. The day we reach there is just a couple of days after a strong storm. Some greenhouses have their roofs blown over and as we drive in the narrow roads between the fields, looking for Elvin’s home, care-takers are hard at work to get them fixed.

Kazanli is remote. It is a farming town about 20 kilometers away from Mersin in Southern Turkey. Rows of greenhouses seem never-ending and there appear to be no distinct landmarks to give directions to. We have no trouble finding Elvin’s home thanks to modern technology though – she had sent us her location via WhatsApp earlier.

Elvin’s husband is at work when we arrive. Elvin welcomes us in and we are greeted by Aden, a 2-year-old girl with curious eyes. She seems happy to see us and giggles as we greet her. We walk into the living room and this time are greeted by Eflin’s equally friendly and cheerful manners. Eflin is Aden’s older brother, at age 5. He cannot move on his own as he recently had a procure and both his legs are in casts. This is part of an ongoing treatment he is undergoing due to a condition he has from birth.

“He is still in casts, but his mood is great. He took up an interest in drawing, so he either watches cartoons or draws for most of the time. I am giving him his injections and getting him to do his physiotherapy. I learned them from his doctor,” Elvin explains. Noting our surprise, she adds, “I studied nursing back home.”

Eflin was just 20 days old when they crossed the border as a family of three 5 years ago. Elvin’s husband worked at a local restaurant back in Damascus. When the clashes broke out, Elvin was a fresh graduate and they had to leave their home soon after. Their arrival to Mersin was mainly so that her husband could find work. Eflin explains that opportunities for work are a little bit better here but her husband still has to work very long hours to earn a living. 

The Turkish labor market is not easy to navigate for Syrian refugees. Unemployment in the country is already high, at about 12 percent. In certain regions, scarcity in the labor or housing markets result in social cohesion challenges, including tensions with the local population. Moreover, Turkey, with an informal sector size at about 25–30 percent of official GDP, has the largest informal sector size (relative to GDP) among OECD members. This means that working without job security or insurance for little pay is commonplace – especially for Syrian refugees. Among nearly 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, only about 28 thousand have work permits. Thus, many Syrians work informally with no stable income and often at risky jobs. Elvin says her husband has the Sundays off, but something extra often comes up and he works to make some extra money. Elvin notes that her husband’s exhausting work routine and Eflin’s treatment are the two main reason why she would like to move to a third country if they get the chance.

Since they are living in a remote area, loneliness is also a constant challenge for Elvin and her family. But she has a positive outlook. She says, “we don’t have any family or relatives here, but we are getting to know the people little by little.” Speaking of how isolation and the language barrier affects her life, she remembers how she found out about Support to Life and the support it provides to refugees:

“Language is a big issue… I remember, it was only when Eflin was 1.5 years-old that we realized he had this condition. But we couldn’t get him any treatment until Support to Life came into the picture. I recall very clearly. It was already a big effort to take Eflin to the hospital. I had to commute 20 kilometers and the minibuses didn’t want to pick us up because his stroller takes space. When I finally took him to the doctor, he examined him and began explaining things to me. But I could not understand a word of it. I took a seat in some corner and began to cry. Then there was this lady sitting next to me. She told me that there was this organization which, among other things, helped with the official documents, also gave translation support in hospitals and government offices and such.”

Hosting 3.6 million refugees poses serious challenges to the Turkish health system; in terms of shaping policy, organizing services and mobilizing resources. This is especially true for those provinces with the largest numbers of refugees: Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Mersin and Adana. In addition to overstretched health capacities, language and cultural barriers are significant obstacles to refugees’ access to health service, as patients are often unable to describe their symptoms or understand instructions for treatment (1).

The work we conduct in Mersin as the implementing partner of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and with the financing of European Union through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations focuses mainly on closing these ‘gaps’ and facilitating marginalized or at-risk refugees’ access to their basic needs and rights. In this case, the story of our engagement with Elvin and her son Eflin is one that demonstrates how the language barrier or intricacies of bureaucratic processes can have a dramatic effect on the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Elvin recalls that when she consulted with Support to Life, her main purpose was to get an official disability report for Eflin. She had already accepted it; no treatment was going to be possible. Support to Life took over the process and Eflin could receive medical attention. As Elvin explains, “Soon, it became clear that there was hope, his condition was potentially curable. STL facilitated the process with the hospital and he had his first operation before it was too late. After his casts are removed, he will wear braces for a while and then he will have to have another operation. If all goes well, he may be able to walk.”

As we pronounce often, our mission is to ‘help disaster-affected individuals and communities meet their basic needs and rights’ and we do this in a variety of contexts, with differing methodologies ranging from direct provision of protection services to information provision and legal consultancy, from advocacy to awareness raising. In addition to these, sometimes we address the needs that are easily overlooked yet are most fundamental – such as the need to be understood and the need to understand.

The influx of Syrian refugees has, without doubt, introduced previously unseen challenges to local capacities – in healthcare, education or other services. Public institutions and other service providers are often overwhelmed and thus vulnerable individuals and families have difficulties accessing basic needs and services. This is why we work in 8 cities of Turkey with great scrutiny when identifying what kind of obstacles refugees face when trying to meet their needs and rights.

Elvin’s son will soon have his second operation and will then hopefully head for school standing tall on his feet. And if his parents, like thousands of individuals and families we come in contact with every year, soon need our assistance getting him registered to the school, we’ll be there for them. 

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Aliya's children with STL field-team member Selma
Aliya's children with STL field-team member Selma

On our previous report, we described how we value integrated support and respond to the needs of the Syrian community through with a needs-based methodology. In this report, we would like to give the word to Aliya, a Syrian mother who gave birth to her second child soon after she crossed the border. This is her story.

“My husband Yakup and I came to Turkey 4 years ago. We lived in Al-Darbasiyah in Syria. It’s right across the border. Once the war was practically knocking on our door, we had no choice but to cross the border.

Our life was in order back there, before the war. I used to go to school. It was our land after all. Who would want to leave their land? My family is still there – my siblings. I haven’t been able to see them since the borders are closed. I fear I will never see my family again. Sometimes we are able to speak on the phone. But they only get 2 hours of electricity each day. They tell me it got very cold and that even bread is very expensive.

Meanwhile, over here we had to deal with an entirely different set of problems. You have to get your temporary protection ID and without it, you cannot even receive medical help. We had a lot of difficulties when I was pregnant for my second child. The private hospitals were too expensive and there was no way we could afford them. I saw on social media that Support to Life is doing work on maternal health. The first time I heard of them was when I was looking for Turkish language courses – which were offered free of charge. My neighbours suggested that I should go to Support to Life’s office and explain my situation, and that could offer their help. I hadn’t been able to see a doctor during the first few months of my pregnancy. I could even die – all because I lacked the ID card.

It was very important for us to be able to get our ID cards – mine, my husband’s, my children’s. During my second pregnancy, I could have my regular checks done at the hospital. We’ve been able to register my son Valid to our family with these cards. This was very important for me. Now we are really a family.

We will be able to raise our kids in good health, in peace here. My wish back in Syria was to finish school. I really liked studying. But war broke out and I couldn’t study past high-school. Now I am the mother of two kids. This is why my first wish is to raise them in peace properly and send them to school.”

-Aliya, March 2018 (Mardin – Turkey)

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Organization Information

Support to Life (STL) Hayata Destek Dernegi

Location: Istanbul - Turkey
Project Leader:
Hayata Destek
Istanbul, Turkey

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