What is the future of Syrian refugees?

Published 03.11.2014 02:24

Aboud Dandachi, a Syrian activist from the city of Homs, lived in both opposition and pro-regime areas during the Syrian conflict. He is a first-hand witness of the impact of war on both communities. He moved to Istanbul toward the end of 2013. While the plan was to move to Istanbul with his family, they spread to four corners of the world to America, Canada, Europe, and Lebanon.

When Aboud landed at the airport in Istanbul, he was amazed at everything that he was able to do without requiring a residency permit or any special ID, and all within one day of getting off the airplane and using his passport alone.

With a new start to his life and professional career, he became more interested in activism in relation to the Syrian civil war. Now, he too is one of the 2 million refugees in Turkey, enjoying living in Istanbul, all the while dreaming about returning home to Syria one day.

Aboud is an IT manager and he speaks perfect English. He works online for an international company, allowing flexibility of location. Although all his relatives moved first to Lebanon in an attempt to move on to Europe, Aboud's choice of living in Istanbul was intentional.
Europe is the first choice in asylum locations for Syrian refugees, namely a "European Dream." The misleading information among Syrians that a new life with free housing and high-paid jobs await them in Europe builds great expectations for this destination. Thus, they take great risks to cross the Mediterranean via extremely dangerous and illegal means, where they are generally faced with economic crises.

Syrians in Turkey are well aware of all that is being done for them in Turkey under limited capacity and means for the last four years. They are thankful to Turkish people for their sincere hospitality, an indication of their acceptance of Syrians. Nevertheless, as time goes by, with the Syrian population in the country having neared 2 million, mutual tensions and conflicts are becoming visible on the streets.

Turkey has officially named Syrians as "guests," giving them partial legal status, which is expected to be temporary depending on the end of the civil war in Syria. However, many Syrians like Aboud are asking for a clear certainty of their status. They are worried about their further status in the event the civil war does not end for many years to come. "I don't know how many years will pass like that," he says, "the worst thing for a refugee is 'uncertainty'. If we knew what our exact legal status was, we would better know what our responsibilities were and what safeguards the state provides in return."

No refugee wants to be forced to go back before they are ready to, and none want undue restrictions on their lives or place of living. Turkey has provided Syrians with unprecedented freedoms to live their lives as they choose, and they really don't think any refugee would mind that with such freedoms comes certain expectations of what is expected of them as well. Any clarification on the responsibilities of both parties, the refugees and the state hosting them, would always be welcome. Even as "guests" they have had unprecedented freedoms, and what any refugee needs is the assurance that their status will not get worse the longer their situation remains as it is.

If the war ended in the short-term, Aboud is certain that 90 percent of Syrians would go back within months. But that's true for the generation that grew up in Syria. The longer the war goes on, the greater the number of Syrians who will have been born and raised in Turkey, and don't know any other country.

As the end of the civil war remains ambiguous, Syrians in Turkey may consider living here over the next decade or longer. And what about the children who moved from their countries with great horror and terror and started their lives anew in Istanbul? "To return back" is not an easy word for them.

Families with children are more likely to settle here. Turkey is obviously a promising country for their children's future, so contemplations on staying or going back would hardly work with children.

Like every other Syrian, Aboud's dream is to one day live in a democratic and modern Syria. He believes their every experience in Turkey will be the cornerstone for building a new Syria. Living in Turkey, a democratic Muslim country, witnessing the election rally, seeing the rehabilitations in Istanbul's streets for the disabled, transportation facilities and cultural availabilities, he longs for the day he can go back and help build a new Syria with all that his experiences in Turkey have taught him.

However, social integration remains very challenging, even for Syrians who can now speak English or Turkish. Very few Syrians have social connections in Turkey that are so important to everyday and professional life in Arab countries.

Syrians are more worried about their existence in Turkey especially after main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's hostile words toward Syrian refugees. They underline their concerns in case of any governmental change in Turkey. Aboud is right. I would say, a longer stay may cause anger and hatred against Syrians and a clear legal status and new policies are urgently necessary for their continued stay in the country.

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