It takes a village to provide for Kobani refugees

After accepting 40 refugee families, neighbors struggle to provide their basic needs.

A Syrian boy inside the Marut village house shared by several families.

When tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds fled the ISIS attack on Kobani earlier this fall, most ended up in the now overcrowded Turkish town of Suruç. The majority found shelter in tent camps, public schools and mosques, filling nearly every available space. But thousands of others made their way to the dusty villages on the periphery, sometimes sharing crowded homes with family members and other times moving into unused houses, barns and storage sheds. Although the village of Marut is just a few kilometers out of town, it feels centuries away, as shepherds guide a flock of sheep down a dirt road that winds past mud brick houses. In a one-room shed, a Syrian family from Kobani shares a few mattresses, a gas stove and a dwindling box of food. In the corner is a cement platform for bathing but no running water. They are among the 40 Kobani families (about 400 people) who are now sheltering in Marut.

Ahmed Kaya, retired mayor, says he owns several houses in the village that are now occupied by Kobani families. They have been welcomed into the village, although still in desperate need for resources. None are paying rent, he says. After what they’ve been through, “How could I ask them for money?” he says.

Most of the houses are overcrowded and undersupplied. Kobani families often have numerous children and extensive families. But Kobani refugees are regarded as neighbors and family members. “They are Kurdish, they are our people,” says Kaya.

Halil Beru, 27, fled Kobani with his wife and two small children without any belongings. At the beginning, they slept in a classroom in a public school building in Suruç. Later they moved into an abandoned shed in Marut, which they prefer over sharing space with hundreds of other refugees. The shed had been used for storage and chickens, so Halil and his wife made it habitable by sweeping out the mouse turds, plastering and painting the walls. To keep his family warm during the winter, Halil made a heater by rigging up radiant bars and wiring it to an electrical line.

Neighbors came with mattresses and a small rug and the local imam arranged for food packages to be delivered. Still, Halil says, they are in desperate need for more food and winter clothing. And when it rains, water leaks through the roof, he explains.

AFAD, the Turkish agency concerned with providing for refugees, provides only for those living in camps, according to the local imam, Abdullah Yilderim, who is credited by refugees for helping them to get aid.

“We depend on ourselves to supply the people with whatever they need,” says Yilderim, as he sits in front of his simple house drinking tea and rolling tobacco, his wife and daughters at his heels.

When people first starting arriving in October, he says the villagers gathered together any extra supplies and distributed them to the Kobani families. The imam gathered carpets from the mosque to deliver to the refugee families — and then brought more from his home.

“A teacher from Kobani came to me with his wife and newborn baby.” They were cold and desperate. So the imam says he drove to a central distribution office, where he was told the supplies were only available for refugees living in camps — and that they wouldn’t be able to get a heater for a week.

“The man had no shoes, so I gave him my own shoes,” said the imam. Then an official at the distribution center relented and gave the family a heater.

Later, aid boxes marked “Concern,” — an international humanitarian organization — arrived in Marut. The Kobani refugees still need more food supplies, warm clothing, gas stoves, fuel and heaters for winter. But they are thankful for the delivery. “We know from the US airstrikes and the influx of humanitarian aid, that we are not alone,” said the imam.

“We can’t give them everything, but we can help them with the basics” he says.

Down a muddy track that leads to the horse stables where champion racehorses are bred, a Kobani family of 10 is sheltering in the horsemen’s office. Mahmud Hussein Ahmed, 47, says the owner provided them with a solid and well furnished two-room building.

“It’s very good, better than the camps,” he said. “We are very grateful.” He says they will wait out the war in Marut. A dozen kilometers to the south the war still rages. Five members of the family are fighting with the YPG against ISIS.

“One of my brother’s sons was martyred,” he explained. But the Kurds are determined, he says. “We are on the front lines, we will make gains and win.” ISIS can’t be allowed to take Kobani. If it did, “we would all feel dead.”

The Kobani refugees are now facing a difficult winter. They are not legally entitled to work, but when they do, they receive a fraction of the pay given to their Turkish counterparts. If the Turkish worker get 50 Turkish lire per day, the Syrian gets only 10, explains the imam. They desperately need more food and provisions to help them get through the cold, wet Turkish winter.

“The situation is the same in all the villages of Suruç.”

This story is part of a series about grassroots humanitarian projects in association with Beehive.

Beehive is a new platform being launched that utilizes social media in order to help humanitarian organizations fundraise.

Jodi Hilton is a photojournalist who has been covering stories of migration from Asia to the Middle East to Europe and in-between.

Jodi Hilton is a photojournalist who has been covering stories of migration from Asia to the Middle East to Europe and in-between.