A Syrian refugee woman in Turkey. Photo credit: UNFPA/Nezih Talvas.
As the migrant crisis looms large in Europe, Turkey is facing its own migrant crisis on a frightening scale. Reports claim that roughly two million Syrian refugees now live in Turkey and that the country has spent nearly six billion dollars caring for these refugees. While the refugees are able to register with the Turkish Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority for “temporary protection” and access to education, health care, and social services, they are still left without employment eligibility or other benefits given to citizens and legal residents.Indeed, as a student studying abroad in Istanbul, I see Syrian refugees everywhere. Among throngs of tourists at the city’s opulent mosques and palaces, Syrian refugee children maneuver through the crowds, begging for money. A small child dressed in dirty clothes approached me one morning to ask for a piece of bread. At night, I see old women attempting to sell Kleenex packs and small trinkets to make enough money to subsist.
These refugees stand out as a reminder of a glaring problem to be addressed. But it goes deeper than feeding, clothing, and housing these two million people. There are darker, hidden issues at play. One of these key issues is the treatment of Syrian refugee women in camps and throughout Turkey generally.
An Al-Monitor article tells the story of a Syrian refugee named Dima. In it, she speaks about being accosted by her boss at the factory: “A lot of Syrian women need work, and employers know that,” she said. “Men take advantage of the vulnerability of female Syrian refugees.” Dima points to instances of prostitution, sexual abuse, and early marriages in Turkey.
Criminal groups in the camps exploit married and single women who are desperate to provide for their families, describes the Christian Science Monitor. This exploitation includes prostitution, harassment from landlords, and early, forced marriages. Even worse, these marriages to Turkish men aren’t registered, preventing Syrian wives from gaining access to healthcare and support services.
The horrific treatment of many women is compounded by the fact that many of the Syrian refugee children aren’t in school, according to Reuters. When this crisis does eventually end, there will still be a distinct lack of education among the children who grew up as refugees, potentially leading to more instability in the country and in the region as a whole.
Unfortunately, data on this issue is hard to come by. Access to camps is restricted, and much of the information that does exist comes from secondhand accounts. While the number of horrifying stories from the camps grow, refugee abuse remains a frustratingly underground issue.
In a country like Turkey, where culture is influenced by various ethnicities and ideologies, this refugee crisis comes at a particularly bad time. Increasing concerns about the upcoming November 1st snap elections coincide with a horrific bombing in Ankara and renewed concerns about ISIS attacks. It remains to be seen how Turkey will handle the refugee crisis moving forward.
Sid Gopinath is a junior at Duke University studying Computer Science, Policy Journalism and Media Studies, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He is currently studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey.