In south-eastern Turkey, Merkel to see conditions for Syrian refugees

The Clouds Market store in Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey caters almost exclusively to Syrian refugees who now form its main customer base.

There are hookahs and Syrian-style sesame seeds in this general store. The names and directions for use on the stock cubes are in Arabic. And a range of perfumes carries the not entirely felicitous brand name "I Love Phone."

Business is poor, says the shop assistant, who hails from Aleppo, the war-ravaged Syrian city almost due south across the border. The reason is not a lack of refugees, but rather their lack of money.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to visit Gaziantep on Saturday, and everyone in the Bulutlar Market, to give it its Turkish name, is well aware of the fact.

The four shop assistants are also fully informed about the deal that the European Union, with Germany in the lead, has struck with Turkey to bar the refugees' way to Europe.

The Syrians appear resigned to their lot, and none of them shows any sign of criticism or anger. They do not believe the deal will work, even if it is true that considerably fewer refugees than previously are making their way to the Greek islands near the Turkish coastline.

"There are a lot of people waiting in Izmir to find a way to Germany and Europe in general," says Mohammed Dibo.

"They won't give up. They will pay the people smugglers more money to find a way," the 24-year-old says.

Dibo's father successfully made his way to Germany before the agreement - which obliges Turkey to take back refugees arriving on the Greek islands from Turkish shores - went into effect.

Asked where his father lives, the young man answers: "Hertha Berlin" - the name of the German capital's best-known football team.

The stories told in Clouds Market reveal the individual tragedies in the lives of people trapped in the never-ending Syrian conflict.

Dibo was about to get married, but his fiancée is now trapped on the other side of the border. She is registered as a refugee in Turkey, but slipped back across with the intention of paying a brief visit to her relatives.

Then Turkey closed the border.

Dibo says that his aunt was not officially registered as a refugee and was deported back to Syria, even though Ankara denies allegations from rights groups that Turkey is deporting refugees.

Mohammed Rejeb, a 35-year-old shop assistant, is missing his 11-year-old son who fled to Europe with his grandfather while his father stuck it out in Aleppo.

Jamila Hamu has come to Clouds Market to do her shopping. Seeing a journalist, she asks in desperation: "How does a mother whose children are all in Germany get there herself?"

The 50-year-old woman shows a photograph of her son's German papers that carry the words "leave to stay" and are marked with the name of a region to the east of Cologne.

The woman, who comes from the Syrian border city of Kobane, says with tears in her eyes that all her six children, most of them grown up now, have made the short voyage across the Aegean to the Greek islands.

Her aim is to follow them, and every day she goes to the UN Refugee Agency to seek assistance. "All they say is, we cannot help you," she says.

The Syrian refugees also face problems of a more mundane kind. It is increasingly difficult to be accorded "temporary protection" status. They say that agents are taking their money with promises to "assist" in this regard.

This document allows the Syrians to register officially as refugees, to gain access to free medical treatment and to send their children to school.

The Turkish government is also allowing those registered to apply for a work permit, although the bar is set high. As a result, most resort to working without papers.

While the officials tolerate this, the wages paid are often less than half the legal minimum. At the same time, rents in Gaziantep have soared as a result of the flood of refugees.

The numbers tell the story.

According to official figures, there are at least 340,000 Syrian refugees in the province, which has a population of nearly 2 million Turkish citizens. Of the refugees, just 50,000 are being looked after in the refugee camps.

While there are occasional tensions, most of the Turks show solidarity. "It's difficult for us," says Inci Kilinc, who runs a hairdressing salon. "But I know that it's hard for them too. We have to help them," she says.

Syrian Ibrahim al-Khalef, 37, has set up home for his family in a rundown former shop a short distance away.

The display window is covered with a blanket to provide some privacy for the parents, their 8-year-old daughter Meryem and young twins in a space of just 12 square metres. There is a toilet, but no shower.

Al-Khalef was a truck driver in Syria, living in a house and owning a car. He now gets by working in a factory. The Turkish authorities have refused to issue him with the "temporary protection" papers that would allow Meryem to go to school, he says.

"She spends the whole day at home, as if in a prison," he says. Still, al-Khalef is full of praise for Turkey and the local Turks. "They're very helpful," he says.

Clouds Market shop assistant Mohammed Sahid agrees. "Not even the Arabs opened their doors to us, but the Turks took us in," he says.

The 30-year-old from Aleppo does not want to seek asylum in Europe. Nor does he aim to stay in Turkey. "I want to go home," he says.

Last update: Thu, 21/04/2016 - 15:42

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