Fulya Ozerkan, AFP
Last updated: 26 March, 2012

Syrian children struggle to resume normal lives in Turkey

“Only a year ago Bashar was like a father to us,” said 10-year-old Hediye Fada at a school in a Turkish refugee camp near the Syrian border, referring to President Bashar al-Assad.

“But now he is torturing and murdering his own people in Hama, Homs and Idlib,” the blonde girl said.

With the trauma of the unrest that has devastated their country, Syrian children are trying hard to return to normal lives at Turkish camps near the border.

Many landed up here with their parents after hazardous trips that lasted days in the mountains to avoid detection by the Syrian army.

The camp at Yayladagi, only five kilometres from the border, is home to around 2,500 Syrian refugees and is located at the site of a disused tobacco factory.

The camp has also been providing schooling for 300 children since September last year, with 10 teachers giving lessons in maths, science, Turkish and computer science.

Even though they are safe here, the children are not indifferent to the tragedy unfolding in their homeland. When questioned, they speak of bombardment and torture.

“Bashar is killing children,” said 10 year-old Mahan Kashif.

“I miss home but a war is raging in Syria, I don’t want to go back there.” Assad’s crackdown on dissent, which monitors say has seen more than 9,100 people killed since March 2011, triggered an influx of refugees on the Turkish border and officials say the current number exceeds 17,000.

Most of them are women and children.

In the computer class, 10-year-old Sehed Saban draws an unhappy girl on her screen.

“This child is like me,” she said. “I fled to another country. I am safe but I also watch on TV children being killed in Syria.”

The teachers, who are all fluent in Arabic, are helping to rehabilitate the children.

“Displacement can take an enormous toll on children especially when an armed conflict is involved,” said nursery class teacher Ozge Dogruel.

“Some are telling us about their bitter stories at home but we are not pushing them,” she added.

“If necessary we are getting help from psychologists.”

The teachers had problems initially in dealing with the children and motivating them.

“As they rose up against the rule in their home country, the children were rising against us when they were stressful but we handled this in a tolerant environment,” said Filiz Kaplan, a Turkish course teacher.

“They are much better now,” she said.

The children appear grateful. In a show of appreciation, some of them painted Turkish and Syrian flags side by side on the walls of the classes and some wrote in Turkish “Turkiye seni seviyorum” (I love you Turkey.)

In another camp at Boynuyogun village, 500 metres from the border, children are taught Koran courses at weekends in addition to secular courses during the week.

“They cannot forget what they have experienced back in Syria,” Koran teacher Sabriya Muhammed said. “They have always had the dream of returning home on one side of their mind.”

Turkey has broken its former alliance with Damascus over the regime’s brutal oppression on dissent, and it has also been playing to host the rebel Free Syrian Army, comprising deserters from Assad’s forces.