I'll be leaving in a week and I'll probably spend 8 to 10 days on the road and at the camps.
I hope to visit most of the camps and talk to the people in them if I can, but some camps are hard to even get near to and strong security measures have been implemented around several of the camps.
One camp where, according to locals, some high-ranking Syrian military officers who have defected are housed is usually impossible to even get within a few kilometers of, and another small camp where, according to locals, problematic cases are housed is also usually difficult to get near to.
There have been several major incidents in the camps recently, so security measures around some of them has been increased a lot and I might not be able to get into them. I have been told that the Syrians in two camps have rioted, that the Syrians in one camp forcibly - but temporarily - seized control of the camp they were housed in, and that in three different incidents police officers who were providing security were badly beaten or shot by the Syrians in the camps.
Some of the camps are pro-Assad, some anti-Assad, and some pro-Kurdish.
I also want to see what’s happening in Hatay. I’ve been told by my friends, who are Turkish and live in Hatay, that you can often see what the people in Hatay refer to as ‘jihadis’ (bearded Islamic fundamentalists) and ‘fit brown-haired westerners’ (implying western agents of some sort) driving around the city in SUVs. They have also told me that the economy of the city is suffering badly, that the general sentiment in the city is anti-anti-Assad (i.e. against anti-Assad groups because they seem to be under Western or Gulf States influence and are disrupting life in their city, without particularly being a pro-Assad sentiment), and that rents in the city have doubled because of all of the apartments which are being rented by the ‘jihadis’ and ‘fit brown-haired westerners’.
The capital of Hatay Province is Antakya (Antioch) but most people in Turkey also call it Hatay.
And if I can, I want to go to a few border crossings to see what’s happening there.
The most important things I want to do, though, will be at the two easternmost camps - Akçakale and Ceylanpınar. They are the biggest camps (more than 20,000 Syrians in total), remote, and seem to get little or no attention from the outside world because of their remoteness.
The Turkish Government would like to provide education at all the camps but I have been told that education programs haven’t been set up yet for this fall and winter for the children in these two camps. It seems the numbers are just too great and their remoteness is also a factor.
I have good relations with some groups of businessmen here in Antalya who like to do special projects to help people in need, and I want to see what kind of help or projects I can organize, or help implement, so that at least some of the children in these two camps will not have their lives ruined because their education was interrupted.
I don’t know what I will be able to do but I am definitely going to try. Even if I am only able to help a handful of children I will at least have done what I could.
And winter is coming. It will be cold and sometimes wet. Will these children have winter clothes and shoes?
During this trip I hope to post regularly here on Daily Kos. There may be Internet connection problems in some locations so I might have to get some help from one or two people here at DK; one person has already volunteered to help.
Before I go I’d like to ask the people here at Daily Kos:
if there is anything you would like to suggest I do while I’m there,
if there is anything you are especially interested in me trying to find out, or
if you have any suggestions.
For those who are curious, I am an American (Texan) who lives in Antalya, Turkey. I have lived in Turkey for 25 years and can speak and read Turkish fluently; know some Farsi, and just a little Arabic.
And I am a teacher.
These pictures will give you an idea about the conditions in some of the camps. They look bleak and some of the camps are, but they had to be set up quickly and providing housing, food, health care and security for more than 50,000 people in a short period of time can’t be easy.
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Turkey maintains the geographical limitation of the 1951 Geneva Convention (The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees) so only aliens who come from European countries to seek asylum in Turkey can reside permanently in Turkey with ‘refugee’ status under Turkish law.
Aliens who come to Turkey from non-European countries to seek asylum are registered and then given temporary residence permits and ‘asylum-seeker’ status. They are also provided health care and primary and secondary education.
The UNHCR then determines whether those who have ‘asylum-seeker’ status will be given ‘refugee’ status, and if they are, they are relocated to other countries. The process can and usually does take years.
At the beginning of this year there were about 22,000 people registered by the UNHCR in Turkey with ‘asylum-seeker’ or ‘refugee’ status.
According to the latest press release of the Disaster and Emergency Management Office of the Turkish Government, dated August 13, 2012, there are currently nine camps for Syrians in Turkey; five in Hatay Province, one in Gaziantep Province, one in Kilis Province, and two in Şanlıurfa Province. (It isn’t mentioned in the press release but I understand that three more camps are under construction.)
The press release states that as of August 13, 2012:
90,999 Syrian citizens had entered, and been registered, in Turkey,
31,289 of the registered Syrian citizens had returned to Syria,
There were 10,878 registered Syrian citizens in the camps in Hatay Province,
There were 8,029 registered Syrian citizens in the camps in Gaziantep Province - with 977 of them being temporarily housed in schools, school dormitories and sports facilities,
There were 14,228 registered Syrian citizens in the camps in Kilis Province - with 2,115 of them being temporarily housed in schools and school dormitories,
There were 21,402 registered Syrian citizens in the camps in Şanlıurfa Province,
There were 1,904 registered Syrian citizens being temporarily housed in school dormitories in Kahramanmaraş Province,
There were 2,000 registered Syrian citizens being temporarily housed in school dormitories in Adana Province,
There were 821 registered Syrian citizens being temporarily housed in school dormitories in Osmaniye Province,
There were 398 registered Syrian citizens hospitalized in Turkey, with 50 family members accompanying them.
There are also an unofficially estimated 20,000 - 40,000 unregistered Syrian citizens in Turkey.