Turkey© UNHCR

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Kurdish refugees struggle to adapt to hard conditions in the camps in Suruç


“Kobani, spelled with an i. Yes, that’s it. Write your Facebook down and I will add you as soon as I can. Do you have a pen?”

Mehmet (17) has been living for almost one month in the Suruç refugee camp, one of the first to be built after Kurdish refugees arrived en masse to southern Turkey following an assault by Islamic State’s militants on the northern Syrian city of Kobani in late September.


Mehmet Shahin, 43, is a Kurdish refugee who fled Kobane following YPG instructions.

Mehmet’s father rushed to find a cushion for me and to grab some tea from the tent next door, the 81. “We used to have a beautiful house which might be destroyed by the time we go back,” he said, “but I really hope we will have the chance to return.” The local People’s Protection Unit (YPG) had advised them to leave the city after the violence began to escalate, Mehmet explained. Islamic State’s attacks in the region of Rojava have so far displaced some 200,000 people into Turkish territory, according to data published by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The population of Suruç, 20,000 inhabitants, tripled over the course of late September and early October. One of the coordinators of Suruç camp explained that even though the situation is stable now, difficulties remain. A number of families are still living in the streets and the camp is experiencing shortages of medicine and food.

While women and children queue to receive their families’ daily rations of rice and bread from the Red Crescent, men tend to spend the day at the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) headquarters, the epicenter of news and emotions for Kobani.
Suruç Municipality, governed by the BDP, coordinates humanitarian aid and manages the camps. According to BDP representative Ismail Shahin, Suruç will never stop hosting people coming from Rojava (northern Syria/southwest Kurdistan) “since they are our people.” Many Kurds refuse to recognise the Turkish-Syrian border established after First World War and that divided tens of thousands of Kurdish families. Some of them are hosted by relatives in Suruç, while others have occupied empty houses. The Avesta Dugun Salonu, a wedding and ceremony hall, has been converted into a mass sleeping area and many families have taken shelter in the Ahmed-I Bican mosque.

The municipality has so far done its best to fulfill refugees’ needs. Local organisations have taken over coordination of the camps, and humanitarian goods have been stored in an improvised warehouse that was, until recently, a garage for lorries. Dozens of Turkish and Kurdish volunteers from across Turkey now work in that warehouse, which has become a hub of activity in recent weeks.

“We are now more organised, but it is difficult to calculate the amounts we can distribute. We do not know for how long will the conflict last”, says Deniz Dilan, one of the volunteers at the warehouse. According to Dilan, the worst is yet to come. Winter is imminent, and the weather in Suruc can become bitterly cold. “We need warm clothes and medicines,” Dilan said.

“Two of my brothers are already sick”, said Mehmet, “during the night is freezing in the camps”. Mehmet, like many other youngsters, spends his days strolling the city to pass the time, helping out his family where he can. “I am going now to get some aspirin from the Cultural Centre. Do you want to come with me?” The library, which probably for the first time has long queues of people waiting to enter, is now used as a makeshift dispensary for refugees.

Suruç has turned into a symbol of Kurdish resistance. It is an improvised rearguard, where thousands of people attempt to maintain their humanity even as they watch their houses being destroyed only a few miles away. Despite the hospitality of the neighbouring city, all of them concur in one fact: their home is on the other side of the border.

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Over 1 million Syrians have taken refugee in Turkey since the outbreak of the crisis in March 2011.

Around 30 percent of these live in 22 government-run camps near the Syrian-Turkish border (see visualization below). The rest do their best to make ends meet in communities across the country.

Such a response has come with substantial cost, and by May 2013 the Turkish government had spent around $1.5 billion (€1.6 billion) on accommodating Syrian refugees. The rising price tag has now forced the Turkish government to seek international support for an operation that, at the beginning, was guarded as a government responsibility. Now UNHCR and other groups have much greater access to the refugees than they did at the beginning, but the Turkish government still maintains a large degree of control over the camps.

Turkey has accorded temporary protection to Syrians on their territory, which precludes forced repatriation, however legally they are not refugees in Turkey but ‘guests’. Turkey is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, however because of a geographic exception written into the original document it is only obligated to accept refugees from European nations. Thus, Syrians in Turkey do not have access to all the legal safeguards accorded to refugees elsewhere, and those seeking permanent resettlement must look to a third nation. Turkey long-maintained an open border for fleeing Syrians, although that policy has changed somewhat as the crisis has grown. For this reason, a substantial number of people are now camped on the Syrian side of the border, waiting for an opportunity to cross.

In September 2014, attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant against Kurdish towns and villages near the Turkish border caused hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee to Turkey. See our timeline for more info.



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Turkey country study

Researcher Şenay Özden used qualitative research methods, conducting open-ended interviews with Syrian activists, Free Syrian Army members and collected the life stories of displaced Syrians residing in the camps and in cities in Turkey, in May 2013.

Download the full Turkey case study (298 KB)

With the influx of huge numbers of Syrians into Turkey, anti-immigrant, anti-Arab discourses have surfaced among the Turkish public.

Senay Ozden, May 2013







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19 comments on “Turkey
  1. I saw numerous Syrian refugees on the streets of Istanbul. What can be done to help?

    • Raadiyah Ameer says:

      I saw many syria refugees while on holiday in Istanbul last week. Have you received a response as to what you could do to help?

  2. Sajjad Tanveer says:

    I want to help Syrian in their camps. I served volunteerly.

    • JG says:

      Hi there,

      Are you helping them now? The reason I ask is I would like to help the children, but am not sure how to begin. Are there any organisations you can name who are helping children in the Refugee camps and who are looking for volunteers?

  3. jamil M Abdi says:

    I thank Turkey ,government and people for helping the Syrian refugees,but one issue I want to draw the attention of the authorities to it is the long long duration of work they do in the( private workshops for making clothes) in all Turkey for little sum of money.Indeed, They go to their work at 8:00 am and come home back at 7:30 pm

    . Despite this long period of work,they get only from(600 to 750)TL a month in comparison with the Turkish citizens who get three times more.Thus, their troubles double simply because of the high price of hiring a house and the high expense of living in Istanbul .I wish the authorities put these poor people in justice to lessen somehow their tragic situations.
    many thanks

    • Dale says:

      So Syrian refugees have no legal protections, as they are not, legally, refugees but “guests” and so they are used as slave labor, making about $1 an hour in long workdays.

      Slavery is not dead; it has just found new terms to describe slaves, from “illegal aliens” to “guests.”

      Meanwhile, Turkey helps ISIL destroy the Syrian Kurds in Kobai. They want a “no fly zone” in exchange for allowing NATO partner the US to use their air bases in the air war against ISIL. Now ISIL has no airforce, so the only aircraft banned in the no fly zone would be Syrian planes attacking ISIL in its own sovereign territory.

      Turkey is at war with Syrian Kurds and Assad. ISIL is their ally in this dual fight. That is why they are literally watching, at close range, the Kurds being annihilated.

      This is the same program developed by Nazis: work or die. Slave labor or death.

      The US has given Turkey over 40 billion in arms since WWII.

      Syrians who cannot find work and have no legal protections are reduced to begging in the streets. For this (trying to survive), they are condemned. When they turn angry or violent, they are blamed for their own misery, tho Turkey has done all it can to destroy them.

      Turkey, they name is shame.

  4. Deniz says:

    While I understand these people had to flee the war I dont think, as. turkish citizen wanting to have a decent life working and kiving in my country have to suffer. Syrian refugees beg for money at almost every street corner and if you do not comply they get violent. A child to whom I did not respond to when I stopped at a red light in Mecidiyekoy called me a whore and threw a rather large stone at my driver side window. This is totally unacceptable and I hate the fact that Syrian refugees think us Turks owe them something.

  5. Abdullah Talukder says:

    I can provide a Syrian small family in my country. Contact me abdullah1380@outlook.com

  6. Abdullah Talukder says:


  7. charles cooray says:

    It was a sad story that Syrians face today specially women & children.
    so what shall i do..?
    I can provide a proper life if anyone who interest.
    I’m a interior decorator,53 Old Unmarred,christian, work my own, live in my own house.
    I think that’s the best way that I can help.
    This will be the best opportunity when someone who seeks real ,proper, safety life in a peacefull country like srilanka.
    I wish to visit istanbul next month for 10 days. So please write me anyone who lost life and who seeks life.
    Charles Cooray

  8. charles cooray says:

    It was a sad story that Syrians face today specially women & children.
    so what shall i do..?
    I can provide a proper life if anyone who interest.
    I’m a interior decorator,53 Old Unmarred,christian, work my own, live in my own house.
    I think that’s the best way that I can help.
    This will be the best opportunity when someone who seeks real ,proper, safety life in a peacefull country like srilanka.
    I wish to visit istanbul next month for 10 days. So please write me anyone who lost life and who seeks life.
    Charles Cooray

  9. Obaidah Schakaki says:

    I’d like to thank the Turkish Government and the Turkish people for their kindness and mercy to host us in their country.
    Whatever we heard or we saw, Turkey was the best country to provide hospitality for Syrians.
    Being Syrian I admit that some refugees could be in-polite but don’t forget 4 years of war circumstances lead them to be homeless. This is not easy. Just think if you were in their shoes.
    On the other side some recisim could found from the original citizens (Few cases)due to long period of handling until they feel it is enough. I ask you to be more patient.
    At the end, nothing and no-one is perfect. And we will keep saying thank you Turkey. You are the best neighbor and we will never forget your help.

  10. George Hsu says:

    I felt weird and uncomfortable seeing many Syria refugees outside a restaurant while enjoying dinner in Istanbul. It is hard to imagine what it is like to sleep rough at any time, but doubly so in the freezing weather. There are too many Syria refugees in Turkey, not to mention more refugees in Syria. I really want to help, what can I do?

  11. Paul says:

    I want to volunteer at a refugee camp in Turkey, does anyone know how to do this or do I just turn up at the camp and hope they accept my offer of help?

  12. Coulter Adams says:

    I’ve traveled 7 x’s to Turkey in the past and want to be of help
    I’m prepared to pay my own expenses to travel from the US to help in the camps near Korbani

    Any suggestions on how I can do this?

  13. Adam Naber says:

    Hello everyone,

    We are a group of students from Aalborg University in Copenhagen, Denmark, studying a Master’s degree in Global Refugee Studies.

    Currently we are working on a project about the different perceptions concerning Kurdish refugees in Turkey as a result of the influx of refugees from Syria. We will be travelling to Gaziantep from 3rd of November to the 14th and are currently looking for interview partners (especially Kurds fleeing to Turkey from Syria) as well as NGOs working in this field to include in our research.

    Could anyone be of help in providing us with opportunities to talk with Syrian refugees about their experiences?

    We look forward to hearing from you!

    Kind regards,


  14. I am running a campaign with the aim of raising enough money to buy a small gift (toy) for the children of fleeing people in the cities of Kobane and Sinjar. They have been forced to leave their homes and are now living in some newly established refugee camps around the border of Iraq-Syria and Turkey-Syria. Your donation and the campaign promotion greatly help us make those children happy during the Christmas and the New Year holidays.
    For more details please visit: http://www.hope-makers.com
    The Facebook page to like, share, and promote: http://www.facebook.com/hopetoys
    The donation site: http://www.gofundme.com/toysforhope
    We will be thankful if you could invite your colleagues, friends, and social network members to join the campaign.

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