AKCAKALE CAMP, Turkey, 14 February 2013-It was three in the morning when Hala, age 16, and her family fled their home in Syria for Akcakale refugee camp in Turkey. The camp, situated in Sanliurfa, is one of 15 camps built by the government of Turkey for Syrian families seeking refuge from the conflict in their homeland. Report by Charbel Raji
Hala, a 16 year-old Syrian girl, describes her experiences living in Ackapale refugee camp in Turkey.
The heavy shelling in Hala’s neighbourhood left the family no choice but to cross the border. “Not only were we hearing the bombing everywhere, we were also seeing people die,” says Hala. “We came here but left our heart in Syria with all our relatives and beloved ones.”
Painful state of uncertainty
Today, the total number of Syrians in Turkey is 170,000. Children make up about half that amount – an estimated 90,471. According to the camp manager, Akcakale was initially built to host 23,000 people but is now home to more than 36,000. The increasing number of refugees is worrying the Turkish authorities as demand grows for services to meet the basic needs of the displaced.
In response, UNICEF and its partners are stepping up work to overcome the challenges in some of the camps and to provide educational and remedial activities for the children.
For Hala, the conflict in Syria has meant she has missed out on school this year. She is happy, however, to have been able to join the school camp.
UNICEF prepares winter clothing kits for Syrian children.
“The school lacks several things at this stage, but at least it gives us hope that at some point we will go back home to restart our normal life,” says Hala. One of her main worries is whether the educational system in Syria will recognize the baccalaureate courses she has taken, once she is able to go back.
“The Turkish authorities managed to ensure protection, assistance and stability to the Syrian families” says UNICEF Representative in Turkey Ayman Abulaban. “Countless lives have been saved, and thousands of children are being fed. But the situation of women and children refugees is still critical.”
As the winter weather set in, UNICEF and its partners were able to procure and distribute some 13,000 sets of winter clothes (including jackets and boots) for children in Akcakale camp. In addition, UNICEF Turkey has contributed to creating a safe learning and recreational environment for some 22,500 Syrian children in camps in Turkey, providing supplies and infrastructure.
Creating a protective environment for children
This month UNICEF will start an 18-month intervention targeting 97,000 vulnerable Syrian children and youth in the camps who will get access to safe, participatory and inclusive educational and recreational spaces, thus contributing to restoring a sense of stability and normalcy.
“We will do our utmost to preserve the important work the Turkish government has done by starting – along with our partners — new activities to help children heal in the aftermath of the conflict”, adds Abulaban. “Educational and recreational activities, while not seen as life-saving, do contribute to saving lives.”
Asked what she wishes for, Hala replies that she just wants to go back home. As grateful as she is for all the services the refugees have been receiving in the camp, Hala is worried about what is happening to friends and family inside Syria: “Those who do not die from the bombing are dying because of cold and hunger. I ask the world to give them some attention. They need everyone’s help.”