Refugees in Turkey waiting to go to Europe

Orient Net - Daily Sabah 2016-05-14 05:23:00

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With the anticipated collapse of the migrant deal between Turkey and the EU after the counterterrorism law dispute, Syrian refugees who live in Turkey say they are looking forward to go to Europe and demanded the bloc open its borders.

The prospective collapse of the Turkey-EU migrant deal has been looming recently, as visa liberalization for Turkish nationals is hampered by the EU demand that Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws be softened. The two sides have recently been sending strict ultimatums back and forth. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker asserted on Wednesday that the whole migrant deal would collapse if Turkey did not make changes to its anti-terrorism laws. On the other hand, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has remained firm in his position, emphasizing that the country’s anti-terrorism laws will not be sacrificed for visa liberalization.

With the EU’s days of fewer arriving migrant likely coming to an end if the deal collapses, Daily Sabah set off to the Istanbul district of Fatih, which is home to the city’s densest population of refugees. Nearly 500,000 refugees currently live in Istanbul, representative of the vast generosity Istanbul has offered them, and surpassing any city in the world in terms of numbers and opening its doors to those forced to flee the bloody war in Syria.

As we strolled around the Aksaray metro station where many refugees sell items on the street and sit in local parks, a refugee boy caught our eye. He was selling a pack of tissues for TL 1 ($0.33). Muhammad, 12, told us that he lost seven of his family members in airstrikes in Douma and that he has been a refugee since 2012. "I have been here for almost a month. I want to leave for Europe, specifically Germany," he said. Muhammad is well aware of the deal between Turkey and the EU. "If there is any opportunity for me, when the deal collapses I want to live in Germany," he said hopefully.

A few hundred meters away we saw two people sitting on the grass with stony faces. Firas, a 31-year-old refugee from Aleppo, said he has been in Istanbul for seven months while his wife is in Europe waiting for a family reunion. "Many of my relatives are still in Aleppo. The situation there is horrible," he said.

"We are allowed to work in Turkey legally," Firas said, adding that he would leave for Europe the minute borders are opened. “God willing," he said, hoping the Turkey-EU deal collapses, which could result in open borders for refugees.

He also blamed the EU for letting Assad "slaughter" his own people. " could have ended the war. They did not and instead helped Assad. Now they have to help us," he asserted.

We crossed the other side of the avenue and saw a family of four in a park. The father was working as a shoe shiner while his two little daughters ran around playing. We approached Basil, a 40 year-old Syrian, as his daughter shared her döner with a little kitten, half of it already eaten by her sister. Basil said his house was bombed in an airstrike and he fled the war in Syria. His family is shattered, with his son still in Syria and father in Lebanon. He took out his phone and showed a photo of his father lying in intensive care in a hospital after the airstrike. He burst into tears, not able to talk further. Basil’s wife joined the conversation: "We would return to Syria once the war is over, but we cannot because they do not want to ."

Still in the same little park, we saw a woman with five children. Her eldest child was selling Turkish accessories. Fatima, a 35-year-old from Homs, said she is grateful for their current condition. “Thank God," she said after the "horrors" she endured in Homs. "I would go back to my homeland the minute the war is over," Fatima said.

Turkey, the country’s northern neighbor, was one of the first countries to open its doors to Syrians displaced by war and sever ties with the brutal Assad regime, which violently suppressed any opposition. Five years on, Turkey still remains the safest haven for refugees who streamed into the country with few possessions, little or no money and no place to call home. Though Lebanon and Jordan, Syria’s other neighbors, accepted the displaced, Turkey is lauded by the international community for offering the best accommodation standards to the refugees. Today, 2.7 million refugees from Syria live in Turkey, a figure that was unimaginable when the first group of 252 refugees quietly entered the country in 2011.

Yunus Paksoy and Ismael Shakshak in Daily Sabah