ANTAKYA, TURKEY - United Nations officials on Wednesday gave new figures for people displaced by the brutal conflicts in Syria and Iraq, saying about 13.6 million have been forced to flee their homes.
Wednesday’s announcement came as Turkish officials acknowledged most of the estimated 1.6 million refugees who’ve arrived in Turkey over the last 3 ½ years are likely to stay.
A few months ago, officials had said the refugees, predominantly from Syria, would remain only temporarily. But with Europe accepting few exiles and with conflicts still raging in Syria and Iraq, most refugees have no alternative.
The refugee influx is straining Turkey’s resources, triggering social unrest and whipping up public anger, especially in the southern region that neighbors Syria and Iraq. Locals say Syrians are willing to work for less money, forcing down their own wages. They also are crowding schools and hospitals.
Complaints of discrimination
Conversely, hard-pressed refugees talk of discrimination, exploitation by landlords and even greater abuses flowing from local resentment.
Amira, 42 and a translator at the main maternity hospital in Antakya, said Turkish doctors and nurses are abusive and insulting to pregnant Syrian women when they come for prenatal treatment or to give birth. She said local Turks hate the Syrians and resent the refugees’ free treatment.
She alleged the abuse go beyond shouting at and insulting pregnant Syrians. Amira claimed to have witnessed a Turkish doctor refusing to perform a Caesarian section on a mother of three until she agreed he could cut her fallopian tubes to prevent future pregnancies. He said Turkey already had too many Syrians.
The woman, whose water already had broken, gave in to the coercion, Amira claimed.
Women especially vulnerable
Syrian women in Turkey are highly vulnerable. Women head many refugee family groups; their men are either dead or remain in Syria to fight. The circumstances leave them vulnerable to what experts call "survival sex." There have been widespread reports of sexual harassment of women refugees and of a dramatic rise in prostitution among them.
In a breathless and angry narrative, 23-year-old Mariam related what happened to her last year at Antakya’s maternity hospital. Her unborn child had moved into breech position – with feet or buttocks first – and doctors shouted at her and refused to perform a Caesarian, she said.
Mariam argued with them, appealing for help from a policeman. The doctors eventually took her to an operating theater.
She claimed that three Turkish doctors, all from the same Alawi Muslim sect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, screamed at her that she was in Turkey illegally and accused her of being against Assad. Before the operation, they pulled her hair, slapped her face and punched her.
VOA contacted the hospital for comment from authorities there but received no response.
U.N. officials praised Turkey for having taken in more Syrian refugees than any of Syria’s other neighbors. But they worry that conditions for most refugees who live outside camps are deteriorating fast and that there’s a lack of official and public support for them.