The media are full of reports on the current refugee situation. On March 4, 2020, Turkey’s borders were opened to the Syrian refugees remaining in the country hoping to continue their journey to Europe. The political gap between Turkey and the European Union has never been greater.
At the border with Greece, the pictures resemble a war scenario in which tear gas is thrown and threats of armed force are used. People are driven across the border from Turkey and are not allowed to enter Greece or return to Turkey.
In Germany, in addition to the news reports, we don’t notice much of it,
yet it determines people’s thoughts, stirs up fear and reinforces the populism of the right wing.
It doesn’t matter which media you consume. There is no newspaper, radio or television report that is not influenced by the funding of the donors,
the current political orientation or the public mood.
Through contacts to the aid organization Avicenna Hilfswerk e.V., I am invited to get my own picture of the situation on the so-called refugee route. Many people flee from Syria to Turkey and the promises of a rich Europe tempt them on a daring journey. Izmir is a port city from the legacy of ancient Ephesus and bridgehead for smugglers who trade the last savings of the people against a decommissioned inflatable boat and dummy life jackets.
As soon as the sun goes down, traders on the street swap the display of sports shoes and sweatshirts for porous swim rings and faded neon-colored vests, the cheap construction of which is not designed for a rescue operation, absorbing and sinking water instead of providing buoyancy. At night, groups of families with backpacks strapped and children on hands stand in agreed-upon places in the city, waiting for an unobtrusive delivery van to open its sliding door briefly and drive them to the sea.
Not all people want to go to Europe. Many Syrians also find poorly paid work and an acceptable roof over their heads in Izmir and the surrounding area. The relationship between them and the Turks is mixed. Some Turks help them, some Turks ignore them, some revile them and some exploit them.
One of the biggest problems is the language barrier. Few Turks speak Arabic and the same applies to the Syrians in reverse. Mainly there is mediation by Syrians who have lived in Turkey for many years and learned the language there.
Since 2017, the aid organizations Avicenna Hilfswerk e.V. and 3 Musketiere Reutlingen e.V. have been cooperating in a community center that addresses this problem. Under the management of Irin Anne O’Rorke, an old factory was rented, renovated and the Tiafi project was launched. In this open facility, Syrian refugees will find translators, physiotherapy and psychotherapy for the children and also a school for these children and their mothers.
Women can take sewing courses and families can find help with problems with the authorities, looking for accommodation or medical care. Every day, meals are available not only for the Syrians, but also for the needy Turks in the neighborhood, bringing people together. While medical care is mainly carried out by Avicenna Hilfswerk, the sewing workshop is based on the means of the 3 Musketiere.
I am immediately impressed by the friendly environment that I enter when I enter the center. The walls of the lounge are painted brightly, children chase through the room even if they wear prosthetic legs, women sit together at tables and benches and through an open door you can see children training with a physiotherapist.
Anne comes to us, the visitors of Avicenna charity and the 3 Musketiere from Germany, with open arms and leads us through the facilities with the pride of a woman who knows that she has created something great, and the eternal concern for her financing this mammoth project.
The reason for our visit is to help with this financing and to see where costs can be reduced, which costs are non-negotiable and where investments also make sense. I see that the operation of this facility is not very different from other projects if you reduce it to the numbers. The differences, however, are that income is irregular, there is little money available for staff, and you are always on thin political ice.
Even if the non-governmental organization (NGO) Tiafi, Avicenna Hilfswerk and the 3 Musketiere are apolitical and non-religious, you are only a toy of the current decisions of the government. The majority of NGOs were expelled from Turkey from one day to the next in 2020 and had to leave their projects unfinished.