Asli Elitsoy
Last updated: 26 January, 2015

Orphans of the Ummah: Urgent action needed for Kurdish refugees in Turkey

Asli Elitsoy has visited a refugee camp run by pro-Kurdish municipalities where she met people, mostly women and children, who need immediate support from the Turkish government and the international community.

Following the ISIS offensive in Kobane, a Kurdish town on the Turkish-Syrian border, more than 200,000 refugees have fled into neighbouring Turkey since September 2014. Most of these refugees have been placed in the camps located in the area around Turkey’s border town of Suruc. According to local sources, however, in addition to the refugees living in the camps, there are many other refugees sheltering in the houses of their relatives in the adjacent villages. For this reason, it is almost impossible to know the exact number of the refugees.

APART FROM THE camps constructed by the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD), a Turkish government institution, Suruc Municipality, governed by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), set up six tent cities around the town of Suruc. Kobane refugees living in the municipal camps are deprived from many of the services provided by the Turkish government such as healthcare, food, water, and electricity. At the moment, only those who are accommodated in the AFAD camp sites receive governmental help. The volunteers who work for the municipal refugee camps said that the Turkish government provides support neither for Kurdish refugees nor the camps built by the pro-Kurdish BDP municipalities. The Kurdish refugees living in these camps survive mostly with the assistance of the regional BDP municipalities and the civil society organizations.

“…it is almost impossible to know the exact number of the refugees”

Much of the humanitarian aid to the Kurdish refugees, including tents, clothes, shoes, baby formula, and electric heaters, is provided by charitable people, Kurdish businessmen, and the local municipalities. The immediate survival needs of the Kobane refugees, like food and clothing, are being met mostly by the people and the local civil society organizations while the municipality provides electricity and water in the camps. Suruc Municipality coordinates the distribution of assistance and manages the camps. 

Individual volunteers work regularly to classify, pack and distribute the aid materials which have been stored in the municipality warehouse. Volunteers also work in the camp sites, pitching tents and playing with children. Volunteer teams are made up of Kurds, Turks, Koreans, and Europeans, mostly Italian, British, and Hungarian. Additionally, some professional chambers like the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services (SES) and the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Egitim-Sen) organize volunteer assistance for carrying out medical screening of the refugees and educating the children in the camps. Some of the volunteers are staying in the guest house belonging to the municipality while others are living with the refugees in the camp sites. 


THE LARGEST tent city recently built by the Suruc Municipality to host 8,000 people from Kobane is located near the village of Külünce. The camp currently hosts around 200 families, living in the tents pitched by the volunteers, and dozens of refugees continue to arrive every day. One of the coordinators in the camp claims that the state authorities are trying to prevent volunteer activities and put pressure on the refugees to move to the AFAD camps funded by the government. She also says that security forces regularly raid the camp with armored vehicles and armed soldiers, leaving a negative impact on the mental health of children. A volunteer teacher also says that from time to time police forces are trying to prevent vehicles carrying aid from reaching the camps. “We do not want their support, it is enough if they do not prevent us from helping these people,” she says. 


LAST WEEK I spent two days with the volunteer team at the Külünce refugee camp. While we were pitching tents for refugee families, others were spending time with the children. My experience of actually hearing the heartbreaking stories of refugees who fled to Turkey convinced me that the humanitarian situation of the Kurdish refugees, mostly women and children, is worse than among the Arab refugees in Turkey. They need immediate help from the government, the international community, and civil society.