By: Andrea Garces, International Medical Corps
On behalf of President Obama, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power recently visited an International Medical Corps-supported multi-service center (MSC) in Gaziantep, Turkey to have an intimate roundtable discussion with Syrian refugee women and children. Newly opened near the Syria border, this MSC represents the strong and unique partnership between International Medical Corps, the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seeks and Migrants (ASAM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Together we are working to meet the health, social, psychological, educational, and other humanitarian needs of the increasing number of Syrian refugees living in and entering Gaziantep.
Upon arrival, Ambassador Power greeted each of eleven Syrian refugee women in the room with a handshake, hello, and a sincere smile, wanting to connect individually with each of them and hear their stories. Her eyes lit up as she saw the children in the room beside their mothers.
Many of the women explained how they left everything behind in Aleppo to flee to Turkey three and twelve months prior. They described their difficulties with the Turkish language, health access, crowded housing conditions, accessing the Turkish education system, exploitative working conditions, family separation, poverty, and their intense lack of hope. They also spoke of how their children work rather than going to school in order to help their families survive on the limited amount of money they can earn. For many women, even if they wanted to go back to Syria, there is nothing to go home to because their homes were destroyed from the war and ongoing violence is a reality.
Ramadan Assi, International Medical Corps’ Turkey Country Director, stated that only 16% of Syrian school-aged children in Gaziantep go to school due to lack of funds, language barriers, and because their priority is often shelter, food, and health. Assi stated that students are worried about their future, and a great tragedy of the Syrian crisis is the devastation that the children feel about not being able to pursue their dreams.
A young boy, age 11, stood up and spoke from his heart, describing how he does not want to work but is forced to out of necessity. He slowly began to sob as he described his utter sadness and despair knowing that his father suffered so much torture and explained that the circumstances are extreme for him and his family. He said he has to help his family survive and wonders what kind of future is waiting for them.
Ambassador Power thanked everyone for their time and for sharing their stories with her. She became choked up and paused to hold back further tears. “The reason I came here,” she said, “on behalf of President Obama, is to hear from each of you. Even from far away we know you are suffering. It is very important that your stories are heard at the UN, Washington, and all around the world. We cannot promise we can make things better, as the challenges are enormous. But what we can promise is that we will do everything in our power to help. The young people here are truly inspiring to us in terms of how much they want to learn. You will learn and be in a position to build a new Syria. We need to work harder to help ease your suffering.”
Ambassador Power shared her appreciation for the work International Medical Corps is doing for Syrian refugees. The meeting reinforced that the Syrian refugees and their needs are not forgotten.
International Medical Corps has worked in Turkey for three years serving Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees. Our work and partnerships through the MSC exhibits International Medical Corps’ strong collaboration with the British Department for International Development, US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, UNHCR, and NGOs to serve the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees. By functioning as a bridge between Syrian refugees and local government services, NGOs, and other stakeholders, the MSC serves as an invaluable resource to help mitigate the challenges Syrian refugees face so they can begin to rebuild their lives. Since the Gaziantep MSC’s official opening on the June 2, 2014, over 1,000 services have been provided to more than 600 Syrian refugees. The MSC houses caseworkers, social workers, language classes, art classes, health educators, nurses, psychologists, security guards, finance staff, and interpreters. International Medical Corps also has active MSCs in Istanbul, Yalova, and Sakarya, serving tens of thousands from various citizenships.