Angelina Jolie and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres reiterated the urgent need to help countries hosting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees after visiting two of 12 well-organized camps located near Turkey’s border with Syria.
They thanked Turkey for keeping its borders open for anyone seeking asylum; for adopting a system of temporary protection; and providing assurance that no Syrian would be forcibly returned. They also praised the role of the Turkish Red Crescent in providing aid to the refugees.
More than 80,000 refugees, mainly women and children, are staying in these camps and the government is planning four more by the end of this month to house a further 36,000. In addition, up to 60,000 people are thought to be staying with relatives or renting rooms and apartments in urban areas.
“Our gates are open to all Syrians,” said Suleyman Tapsiz, governor of the border province of Kilis. “Now our biggest district is the camp,” he revealed.
“Now it is their hour of need and I am grateful to Turkey and all the neighboring countries for their extraordinary generosity.”
More than 250,000 Syrians have to date registered or applied to register as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, but the real number of those who have fled the fighting could be much higher.
At the Kilis camp, 12,000 refugees reside in converted freight containers, providing some semblance of home. Governor Tapsiz said a further 4,000 were living in the town of Kilis and receiving aid.
Turkey has also been providing vital medical care for refugees, including those with war injuries. Since the crisis began last year, Turkish doctors have performed surgery on 1,600 refugees in Kilis, many of them conflict-related. “In our hospitals, you can see wounded babies, people who lost their arms,” Tapsiz said, while urging greater international help to maintain a high level of support.
Angelina Jolie talked to several families, all of whom had lost relatives. One woman told the actress that a whole family was killed in her town when their home was bombed. “We don’t care about our houses,” the woman told her. “We care about the blood of the people.”
Education was a recurrent theme during the visit and Guterres and Jolie toured a new primary school with walls covered with children’s artwork. But some families expressed concern about the future for their children. “There is no way to advance as a refugee,” one Syrian said. “Life stops. Even though we are alive, life has ended.”
Angelina Jolie and Antonio Guterras visited the Islahiye refugee camp in Gaziantep province. The recently established camp houses some 10,000 Syrians in tents. Under the sweltering heat, refugees voiced fears for family members back home and said they were concerned about the coming winter.
One woman told Jolie her son was risking death by staying in their village near Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, to protect their home from looters. Another woman, a teacher and mother of seven, spoke of her husband, a former police officer who lost his hands in an explosion and could no longer work. She was one of 400 qualified teachers on a waiting list to teach at the camp school.
Since the start of the crisis, 115,000 Syrians have arrived at the camps in Turkey, but 35,000 have since returned voluntarily. In April, Turkey asked the international community to contribute to the response effort.