The Struggles of Refugees in Turkey

By: Ekinsu Kabadayi

The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has affected many countries and continents in a very short time. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic and asked countries to take stringent measures to stop the spread of the virus. That same day, the Turkish Ministry of Health, announced the first positive case of COVID-19 in Turkey, and days later the first virus-related death occurred on March 15, 2020.

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide and has the largest number of registered Syrian refugees in the world among whom almost half are children. Presently there are 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees with close to 330,000 persons from other nationalities reşiding in Turkey, as they are forcibly displaced due to conflict, violence, and persecution. The majority of refugees in Turkey live outside the camps and over 98% of Syrians under temporary protection live in urban and rural areas with less than 2% residing in temporary accommodation centers. The Coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly has had and continues to have many social, economic, educational, cultural, and health effects on refugees in Turkey. Worldwide migrants and refugees comprise a vulnerable population group and are presented with a significantly higher risk of exposure to the virus and other infections, as they stay in overcrowded settings with poor ventilation, poor hygiene, limited access to water supply and sanitation facilities, a minimal number of employment opportunities, and limited access to the health-care services.

Research studies conducted among refugees in Turkey by the Association Of Solidarity With Refugees And Migrants (n=1.162), stated that 40% of people needed to apply to health services for various reasons during the epidemic.15% of these people stated that they could not benefit from health services, 57% of participants with children said that their children can be followed up regularly for vaccination and 68% of people who needed regular medication stated that they could not obtain their medication. The results of the survey showed that 83% of the participants stated that they had sufficient information about the COVID-19 outbreak. The participants indicated that they mostly accessed the information through social or other written/visual media and 19% stated that they accessed it through their neighbors or friends. Nearly 10% of the participants were informed through the Ministry of Health which is the most reliable source for accessing accurate information.  

Besides these views, the economic crisis unleashed by the outbreak of COVID-19 is hurting economies, regardless of income level. Many workers have lost their jobs and even several firms have closed down. During the containment process, many local workers as well as refugees lost their jobs and had difficulty in defraying their expenditures. In the previously mentioned research among the refugees in Turkey, 63% stated they had difficulty in accessing food, and 53% said they had difficulty meeting basic hygiene requirements. People whose mandatory spending and payments were affected after the COVID-19 measures stated that they had difficulty in paying their rents, invoices, and basic supplies.

As in many other countries, schools and universities have closed and moved to online platforms and remote education to contain the spread of coronavirus. The COVID-Sectoral Analysis of Impacts on Refugees in Turkey state that 70% of the Education Sector Survey participants children are still enrolled in school. However, 48% of the children enrolled in school could not benefit from remote education and were unable to follow the lessons on television or online because they did not have the necessary technological devices such as television, computers, etc.

Although the majority of people have sufficient knowledge of COVID-19, the increase in unemployment and lack of regular income worsens the accommodation and conditions of people. Developing action as the global community and intervening to respond to the sensitivity and needs of refugees is essential. It has been predicted that the livelihood of people living with daily wages will not be sustainable if the COVID-19 pandemic is prolonged. 

As students against COVID, raising awareness about refugees in Turkey and their suffering is important as human beings. It is important to strengthen the focus on providing psychosocial support to the affected population, to ensure that refugees have access to accurate and reliable information about COVID-19 and to inform them to wash their hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitiser, how to use a mask and how to protect themselves and their family against COVID. Especially during pandemic steps should be taken to raise awareness to improve the living standards of refugees. No person anywhere should have to put themselves at risk of human rights violations. 

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