Since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, an increasing number of refugees from Syria have sought asylum in Turkey. An escalation in fighting from 2012 onwards has created a dire humanitarian situation for millions of Syrians. From the outset of the war Turkey has had an open-door policy to refugees. According to a survey by AFAD during June-July 2013, some 200,386 Syrian refugees had found their way there, dispersed in some 20 camps. Additionally it is believed that there are a further 350,000 Syrians living outside of the camps, refugees from the fighting, in various cities of Turkey.
On 1 June 2014, the UN refugee agency put the number of displaced Syrians in Turkey at 765,000 whilst the Turkish deputy prime minister has stated that the number of Syrians in neighboring Turkey has surpassed 1 million.
This is the story of just a handful of those Syrian. These are the refugees who have been succeesful in fleeing Syria, who have saved their lives, and the lives of the children they managed to bring out with the, from the bloody and brutal violence that goes on day after day back home. The popular uprising against Bashar al-Assad, started more than three years ago yet in Syria, and outside of the country now too, the struggle continues unabated.
My photographs document life for Syrian refugees living outside of the camps in Istanbul. Whilst my photos are few in comparison to the overwhelming numbers of displaced people living in Istanbul and Turkey, their stories are shared by many of their compatriots who seek similar sanctuary whilst they wait to see if they will ever be able to go home safely.
Abdullah – al – Gajim is now living in a small old house with his family in Fatih, Istanbul. He worked as a driver in Aleppo. A year ago his car was destroyed by bombing and his wife who was pregnant lost her baby in the extreme stress and violence of the war around them. The whole family fled from Aleppo and, after crossing the Turkish border, they reached a camp in Gaziantep.. AThe conditions in the camp were very hard so they decided to continue their journey and cover the huge distance to Istanbul in search of better opportunities. In Istanbul, Abdullah was unable to find work for two months but now he has found some employment in a shop that makes and sells leather belts. His youngest son Mustafa (one and a half years old) has recently been admitted in a hospital with severe head swelling. A consequence the family believes of chemical weapons use in the war in Syria. Abdullah rents the apartment they live in for 500 (TL) lira whilst he struggles to earns 700 (TL) lira per month.
Kader used to run a small shoe business in Aleppo. He has three daughters (L-R) Yasmin, Nasrin and Ahian. He has been in Istanbul for just two weeks (May, 2014). At first he knew nobody there, but somehow he has managed to make contact with Gajim who has helped Kader to find accommodation in the Fatih district. Kader lives downstairs from the Gajim family and they both support each other, morally and financially. Currently Kader has no job. Turks are wary of the new influx of Syrians and the impact is also very prominent in the jobmarket. Kader is getting by with the savings he had previously brought out with him, but he knows this will not last them long.
Muhammad is from Damascus and has been living with his family in a small room that costs 600 (TL) lira per month in Küçük Pazar, Istanbul for last three months (June, 2014). When they crossed the border, the Turkish polices caught them and sent all of them to a jail in Urfa for one day. After being released, they stayed in Urfa for few days but there were so many problems with food, water and accommodation for the family that they decided to make their way to Istanbul. Mohammad was a businessman in Syria but now he has no job. His wife sells water on the street and that’s the only source of income the family has at the moment. They are very conscious and concerned about their children’s’ future and education so as they are unable to get the children enrolled in school their mother is trying to continue their lessons at home.
Mustafa’s story is little different. One of his relative was able to give him money when he left Syria so he has some security now in istnbul. He has been living in Istanbul for a year. now but his wife and little daughter still go out to begging. Here he and his friends watch movies, music videos on internet in a second hand laptop that he managed to buy from a small street market.
Gradually almost all the streets of Istanbul are being occupied by Syrian refugees who have turned to begging to support themselves. This is most visible in the Sultanahmet and Taksim districts as these areas are expensive and many rich tourists are often there. The Turkish people are very uncomfortable with this as they feel it is threatening the districts and putting tourists off going there.
Many Syrian refugees can be seen in the old city of Istanbul (especially in Fatih) sitting in the street and around abandoned empty buildings. Though the living conditions are very poor in these quiet back streets at least they find a relative safety out of the main bustle of the city and away from disapproving Turkish eyes.
Hasan was brutally tortured in Syria. After loosing everything he owned back home he came to Istanbul with his family just three months ago (May, 2014). Presently he has temporary shelter in a small restaurant but he is still searching for a job and proper accommodation. He says he would like to move to somewhere else as soon as possible as the oocal Turks are not very welcoming.
A small cafe in Küçük Pazar, which is full of the Syrians almost all the time. Mostly the young people spend their time here smoking, gossiping and playing cards. Interestingly, most of them have funds to play poker and gamble by sending their younger broters and sister out onto the street to beg. But the cafe owners are increasingly annoyed by this situation because according to them the crowd becomes intolerable making a lot of noise and sometimes starting fights over money.
Hasan is from Aleppo. He lost his father while fleeing from Syria. He got the scar on his face from injuries he received at the same time. Now he is living in a park in the Fatih district with his mother and two younger sisters. They sustain themselves by begging at the mosques across Istanbul as they have no other means to make money to survive.
Children buy snacks from a local Istanbul shop with the money they got from begging. They hardly manage one standard meal each day.
Cyber cafes have become a good source of entertainment for Syrian kids. The internet is very costly in Syria but in Istanbul they can use the internet for just one (TL) lira for half an hour. The kids easily manage this money by begging. In the Cyber cafes, they play games, watch music videos, and movies. The age group is more astonishing because it starts from three. A three years old boy came to watch a TV series named “Şefkat tepe” on youtube.
There are several charities and organizations in different places of Istanbul, who are meant to help the Syrian refugees. Syrian Nour is one such charityproviding many services. Here people can get free medical care and medicine. But day by day the number of refugees is increasing so rapidly that it is becoming very tough to give full support to the 500 or so individuals who come for help everyday.
A free Syrian school named “Seraj” run by some Syrian youth.
“Seraj”, a free Syrian School run by Syrian youth. This school is only six months old. They faced many problem to establish this school. Most of the children have witnessed the horror of war in Syria.
A free Syrian school named