Thoughts on World Refugee Day

I’ve been living in Turkey since 2012, the day I crossed the borders with my backpack. I also had my laptop stolen on that night, in the midst of the crazy exhausting journey. When We left Aleppo (the city), bombs were falling on its countryside. All I remember from my last days in Syria is the sound of bombs, it made life surreal, and gave me a sense of alertness I’ve never felt before. It was also Ramadan. Still, there was no mercy from Assad forces, and the bombing continued.

Five years later, I’m still here, in a country that doesn’t accept refugees or asylum seekers from Syria, only from Europe. Me, and almost another three million Syrians remain “barred from gaining regular refugee status and instead are classified as beneficiaries of temporary protection”. What does this mean for us?

It’s not news that many Syrians who work in Turkey get exploited and receive unfair treatment, whether they work in sweatshops or normal companies/businesses. Most of us are illiterate when it comes to our rights, the word temporary protection makes people more cautious and anxious about demanding them, such an act can disturb their chances of a livelihood and survival. In the past few months I’ve discussed with some friends a potential project about translating the Turkish Labour Law into Arabic, and distributing it to as many work places that hire Syrians as possible. Most of the feedback I got on this was negative. The Turkish government, instead of offering a serious plan to contain the situation, decided to go with a different approach; relaxing some laws so that Syrians here can find ways to work, or start small businesses, on their own. People managed to survive that way, yes. But what you get is people on survival mode for the last six years of the crisis; people working with no contracts, no governmental rules, no security, no minimum wage (a law that exists in Turkey), no fixed days off, no holidays, and so. In a one Turkish district, where the biggest orphanage in the world recently opened (an event I still can’t be optimistic about), Syrian employees in other nearby orphanages weren’t getting paid for months.

I can go on and on about the problems Syrian people on temporary protection face here. A recent law demands that Syrians get a travel permit before travelling to other Turkish cities! I was surprised when I was asked for one at the airport when travelling to visit my parents. Luckily, I was pardoned for being a college student (thank God for that). I’m still not sure if we’re labeled as refugees, and still not sure in what way one can help improve the situation, even on a small scale. Stability and clear rights are what people need to recover and have a chance at prosperity. I pray we find ways to achieve that for the millions of Syrians living here.