(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)
Migrants in Turkey pray for return to Syria, work farms to survive
Ahmad Mustafa fled northern Syria to Turkey four months ago, badly injuring his hand along the way.
But while the free healthcare he gets as a refugee is helping him heal, Mustafa and many of the nearly 3 million Syrian migrants who have fled to Turkey are gradually losing hope for their war-ravaged homeland.
“We have no hope for Syria at this stage. Russia, Iran, and the United States are all hitting us from different sides,” Mustafa said, his right arm still in a sling.
“Our hope is that God will change things,” he said, speaking through a translator.
Mustafa is part of what Ankara says is the world’s largest refugee population, many of whom barely eke out a living in places like Reyhanli, a dusty border town in the southern Hatay province that teems with Syrian refugees and where some signs in shop windows are printed in both Arabic and Turkish.
Ankara has also set up refugee camps on the Syrian side of the border and the Turkish Red Crescent estimates it is providing aid to around 5 million people inside Syria.
But while a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian government air base this week may have kindled some optimism that Washington could step up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, nobody in Reyhanli expects to be able to go home soon.
“They are hitting us from the air, killing civilians in cities,” said Samial Dude, a former truck driver from the area around rebel-held Idlib, who also now lives in Hatay.
“We don’t have guns. We don’t even know who’s bombing us, we are just being bombed. Even animals are treated as more important than Syrian people,” he said.
The United States fired missiles at a Syrian air base on Friday in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed 87 people, including children, in the northwest Idlib province.
Both Washington and Ankara blame the Syrian government for the poison gas attack, but Damascus has denied responsibility.
Six years of civil war have killed an estimated half a million people and set new standards of savagery for civilians, with half of Syria’s population uprooted in the world’s biggest refugee crisis.
In Turkey, where Ankara provides the migrants with some aid, many work as seasonal laborers on farms to survive.
“I have been paying rent for six years and all my earnings go to pay it off,” said Mohammad Hammadi, adding that he spends much of his time working with an aid organization to help migrants who are even worse off than he is.
President Tayyip Erdogan, long one of Assad’s most vocal critics, is popular with the migrants in Hatay, who say he opened Turkey’s borders to them when leaders in the Arab world did not. Erdogan has called on the West should do more to help Turkey shoulder the humanitarian burden.
Turks will go to the polls on April 16 for a referendum on whether to change the constitution and give Erdogan sweeping presidential powers. Although they will not be able to vote, some Syrians migrants hope that Erdogan does secure more power.
“Of course we want Erdogan to become stronger, maybe then he can help us more. Maybe then he can build homes for us here,” said Gaceel al Awaad, who earns about 30 lira ($8) a day working in fields, almost all of which goes to pay rent.
“We just pray to God that we can return as soon as possible. This is the only concern for Syrians in Turkey.”
(Writing by David Dolan; editing by Alexander Smith)