Editor’s Note: Photographer Pamela Jean Calore, of the Art Institute of California, San Diego, has been documenting the lives of refugees living on the streets in Istanbul and teaching art in the camps. To view more photographs, go to Drawing Across the Lines at www.drawingacrossthelines.org.
The current refugee crisis taking place in Turkey and Europe drew me to travel there and to explore the conditions that the refugees are facing in these countries.
My photographs during my visit to Istanbul in November 2015, highlight an ever-present scene in Istanbul, that of refugees living on the streets.
With Syria now approaching six years of conflict, the citizens have faced poverty and difficulty receiving aid in cities there such as Homs and Idlib. They have been forced to leave their homes and find other places to live. Turkey borders Syria to the north and has been the main responder in this crisis, investing $7.6 billion U.S. dollars toward hosting refugees.
Camps Are Temporary Fix
Over 2 .2 million refugees are living in Turkey today. There are 25 camps located near the southern border. The camps are clean and have orderly living conditions, but they are overcrowded and living there is only a temporary fix.
The city of Istanbul is located in the northwest region of Marmara and has a population of 16 million people. Istanbul has over 600,000 refugees living in the city, although there are no refugees camps located there. Many refugees choose to go to larger cities looking for work and opportunities to establish livelihood. Some have been able to reestablish businesses in the Old City, also called the Faith District.
Once refugees arrive, it can be quite difficult to find work without a legal permit; therefore, many resort to other forms of acquiring income, such as child labor and begging on the streets. Living conditions can be challenging, and many find themselves living in run-down flats in Istanbul’s overcrowded neighborhoods.
All registered Syrian refugees receive a guest AFAD card that gives them access to emergency health care, as well as primary and secondary education for their children. Under international law, Turkey is obligated to provide education to all school age children, but only 25 percent are attending school outside of the refugee camps.
The reasons for such low attendance points to a lack of understanding of the process of registering their children in the schools. In addition, the parents are worried about their children being bullied, language barriers and lack of money for transportation and school supplies.
Parents may also be relying on their children to help earn income. Turkey has made efforts to meet its obligations by providing temporary education centers taught in the Arabic language and curriculum. But less than half of Syrian refugee children who have entered Turkey since the start of conflicts are attending school.
Man, Daughter on Streets
When I arrived in the Old City, I explored the area of Sirkeci. The shops on the old winding streets stay open late. I walked past an enclave on the sidewalk, and sitting there was a man named Huseyin Da Logel and his young daughter, Gamse Nur. They were Syrian refugees living on the street.
A young Turkish boy named Marut stopped where we were standing and offered to help translate for us from Arabic to English and I could hear their story. This man told me that his wife had died before they left Syria. So it was just the two of them now living in Turkey. He said they were struggling for money to get by. They move around to different locations in the city. When I went back three weeks later, they were gone.
Some of the local people I spoke with seemed to have a low tolerance for the refugees living there. Their view is that the refugees are taking over their neighborhoods. They say the ones that are living on the streets in Istanbul make a business of begging for money, while also collecting money and benefits from the Turkish government.
Researchers say that this negative view needs to change in order for the refugees to acclimate into the society. It has also been suggested that the idea that this is a temporary situation needs to change.
The refugees in big cities, such as Istanbul, and not in the camps, need work permits. The children should be in school. Currently the refugees in Turkey are given guest status and cannot receive the full benefits provided to Turkish citizens. Approximately 85 percent are living outside of the refugee camps, and only 15 percent are receiving humanitarian aid.
Urgent $8 Billion Need
The United Nations Regional Refugee and Reliance Plan (or 3RP) is appealing for $8 billion U.S. dollars, which is urgently needed in the Syrian crisis. Two areas of concern in this appeal are the 4.7 million refugees in hosting countries and the 13.5 million remaining in Syria.
For 2016-2017, 3RP aims to bring together over 200 partners in a coordinated region-wide response to the Syrian crisis. For more information visit the 3RP website.
Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, Turkey estimated to host over one million Syrians has maintained an emergency response of a consistently high standard and declared a temporary protection regime, ensuring non-refoulement and assistance in 22 camps, where an estimated 217,000 people are staying.
Turkey is currently constructing two additional camps.