GAZIANTEP, TURKEY — As the Syrian conflict approaches the end of its second year, authorities in neighboring Turkey have set up schools for refugee children. Most schools are in camps where some 200,000 Syrian refugees now live. But for the thousands who are living in apartments or with extended family, no schooling was available until recently.
School for displaced Syrians
Gaziantep's school for Syrian refugees. These fourth graders are studying in their native Arabic though their coursework follows Turkey's curriculum. They also are learning the Turkish and English languages.
The school was opened in October when it became clear that they would not be going home anytime soon.
Nearly 600 Syrian children study in the eight classrooms here, the younger ones in the morning, the older ones in the afternoon. At night more than 300 parents come to learn Turkish.
Like most children, these kids love to draw. Many drawings show disturbing scenes. Director Orhan Buyukaslan says art helps them deal with trauma. “As you see in the drawings, the children have witnessed war, fighting, violence, bombings. They and their families are tense," he said. "They can start shouting, fighting, even over little things. We understand what's going on inside them. That's why we tolerate it.”
The Gaziantep city government funds the school and pays student expenses. Mayor Asim Guzelbey says the presence of so many foreigners can cause tensions. But he says local people remember Turkey's suffering following the First World War.
“Gaziantep has seen terrible war [in 1918-21] where 25 percent of its population was killed. The people here know what it's like to lose everything and survive without food. That's why we understand the Syrians' situation," stated Guzelbey. "We have embraced them.”
Guzelbey is disturbed by the humanitarian suffering and the destruction in Syria, which shows no sign of ending soon.
As classes end, the Syrian children are dismissed, leaving Gaziantep officials to worry about how to possibly handle thousands more waiting to escape the violence engulfing their country.