Syrians in Istanbul

ISTANBUL (WOMENSENEWS)–Muhammed fled the violence of her home in Syria last year, escaping also the limitations of the refugee camps. She now sleeps with her children in the parks and mosques here.

Turkey, a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has continuously maintained an open door policy for refugees like Muhammed since the beginning in March 2011 of the deadly Syrian conflict. On safer ground, many refugees say, however, that they struggle, without money, jobs or, often, places to stay. Some describe tensions with the police and local people.

“Police drive their cars against us, they go through all of our belongings, even on our bodies, to steal our money,” Muhammed, who asked not to use her last name for fear of retribution, told Women’s eNews through a translator in a park near Aksaray metro station in Istanbul.

Muhammed is just one of around 750,000 Syrian women and children who are estimated to be flocking to Turkey from Syria. The city currently hosts more than 67,000 Syrian refugees, according to Huseyin Avni Mutlu, Istanbul’s governor. However, many Syria refugees came to Turkey without identification papers, making it difficult for authorities to know the exact numbers. A recent report by Kemal Kirisci of the Brookings Institution, quoting MazlumDer, a human rights nongovernmental organization, said their numbers have exceeded 300,000 in Istanbul.

Local people at first received the Syrian refugees in sympathy, but Turkey’s biggest city seems to be reaching the limits of its generous policy towards its “guests.” Recently Mutlu said that a new measure will send Syrians who are begging in Istanbul’s streets–a familiar sight–to refugee camps against their will.

“If people of this neighborhood welcomed us, we wouldn’t experience any of these troubles,” said Muhammed, referring to numerous altercations with the police, some centered on Syrians illegally selling products, such as tissues, in the city.

Ceylan Ozbudak, a Turkish political analyst and journalist based in Istanbul, told Women’s eNews in an email interview that the language barrier also makes it difficult for Syrian women to adapt to life in Istanbul, and to find work.

“Despite having borders with Arabic speaking nations, the number of people who can speak Arabic in Turkey is lower than in Europe or the U.S.,” Ozbudak said.

“Turks do not help us because they do not understand the language we speak,” agreed Muhammed, who has to support her family alone while facing a new life of a refugee. “They don’t understand the process we have been going through.”