Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Happy to Be Alive

Harran Camp
Harran Camp, where 14,000 refugees from Syria live in Turkey.
Brianna White-Gaynor, USAID
Vouchers allow 90,000 refugees to purchase food at markets
“We are living here only to escape death.”

October 2016—The ongoing crisis in Syria has caused nearly 5 million Syrians to flee to neighboring countries to escape the horrors of a long and bloody conflict. This crisis has reshaped the demographics of an entire region and has impacted all of Syria’s neighbors.

One such place is Turkey, where, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 2.7 million Syrians have taken refuge. Turkey now hosts more refugees than any other country in the world. Towns along the border with Syria have doubled and tripled in size since the conflict began in 2011.

For one father of nine children living in Harran Camp, just outside of Saliurfa, Turkey, the welfare of his family is most important. He is happy that he and his family are safe in Turkey and that his children have access to education. Although Harran offers opportunities to them as refugees, they still have family living in areas of Syria under the control of the Islamic State, and they are eager to be reunited with them.

In Harran Camp, 14,000 Syrians live in a mini “town” established by the Government of Turkey. It currently hosts refugees from communities all over Syria—including Idleb, Deir er Zoir and Aleppo governorates—a testament to how the conflict in Syria has affected the lives of everyone in the country.

In many ways, the camp functions like any other small city, with busy markets, laundry facilities, an internet café, and health and education services. The camp also features a social center that offers small income-generating options for women such as sewing classes where they produce small items to be sold in local markets.

In order to ensure that refugees in Harran are able to meet their food needs, USAID, through its partner the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), provides refugees with monthly electronic vouchers that allow them to shop at WFP-supported markets. The markets offer fresh vegetables and a dignified way for people to choose which food they want to purchase.

This food assistance is vital as many refugee families still struggle to afford non-food items such as soap and detergent on a regular basis. The program also injects funding back into the local economy, supporting local businesses, and generates tax revenue for the government.

USAID supports 90,000 refugees inside Turkey with electronic voucher-based assistance.

Other Syrian refugees in Saliurfa, also known as Urfa, are struggling just to survive.

One such example is a family of nine living in a cave in Urfa that now serves as a small single bedroom family home. While families in Harran have access to education and health services, for this family who has lived in a cave dwelling for two years, the only thing that matters is basic survival. Education opportunities and health care are not within sight.

“We are living here only to escape death,” notes the father. He says the family left when his oldest son, then 10 years old, was threatened with conscription in an armed group inside Syria. The father left and lived for several months in Saliurfa, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the rest of his family.

Their surroundings are meager. The cave is a simple two “room” setup, a bedroom for all nine family members and a basic kitchen, with a large open area to keep cows and chickens. They are allowed to live in the cave rent-free in exchange for caring for the landowner's livestock. Like many Syrians, their life has changed dramatically due to the conflict.

However, they are still alive, and a major reason is the food assistance they receive from WFP. The electronic food voucher allows the father to ride his motorbike a few miles into town to shop at a WFP-supported market to ensure that his family can eat, with the hope that someday they will not only be happy to be alive, but back in their native Syria.

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Last updated: October 14, 2016

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