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Fleeing War, Fighting for Survival: Turkey’s Syrian Refugees Face New Struggles

Escaping War, Surviving a Pandemic: Turkey’s Syrian Refugees Face Coronavirus Struggles
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Escaping War, Surviving a Pandemic: Turkey’s Syrian Refugees Face Coronavirus Struggles

Syrian refugees in Turkey say they are struggling to survive amid the coronavirus pandemic in the country, as thousands have lost their jobs during the lockdown.

The city of Sanliurfa in Turkey is less than an hour by car from Syria and is home to more than 400,000 refugees who’ve fled the violence over the border. They make up some 20 percent of the city’s population.

Resources already were stretched. Now the coronavirus pandemic is forcing many refugees deeper into poverty. Shihad Bin Ali worked as a teacher in Syria but is now struggling to find work.

“No one is working. God should take this virus away; we live in a very difficult situation,” Ali told VOA. “Most of the Syrians were working as casual daily workers and because of this virus, the people are facing serious problems.”

The refugees are barred from traveling to other cities for work. Most don’t get any support from employers as they work illegally in the informal “black” economy. The Turkish government is giving financial support to its citizens, with cash payments of $140 per month and access to loans. Refugees don’t qualify for these programs – and say they are struggling to get by.

“Many people are in quarantine. There is no work, the young people were going out and working but there is no work anymore,” said Abdullah Ouda, who fled his home city of Homs in Syria in 2011. “In this situation, the people are in need, and they have no money to buy food. We pray that God should take this virus away.”

Refugees receive a prepaid cash card from the Turkish Red Crescent, funded by the European Union. It amounts to 120 Turkish liras, or 17 dollars per month for each family member. Jasim, from Deir-el-Zour in Syria, echoed the complaints of many refugees. “The money is just not enough for our expenses. The electricity bill is 400 liras, the water bill is 150 liras, and rent of the house is 1,100 liras,” he told VOA.

Unfinished concrete apartment blocks sprawl south toward the Syrian border. Though many appear uninhabitable, refugee families have moved in as they have been priced out of the city center. Many fear they soon could be evicted as they struggle to pay rent.

Having fled war and found a new life in Turkey, the future for thousands of Syrian refugees once again is deeply uncertain.

Mehmet Aksakal contributed to this report.