How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected vulnerable groups, refugees, women and children in the Mardin area? Social workers Berfin Ordu and Abdurrahman Kaya from Support to Life share their experiences from 2020 and tell us how extraordinary circumstances continue to affect the lives of refugees.

The pandemic suddenly changed the system that we have been used to for years. As Support to Life staff, we faced many challenges in this process and tried to find solutions to the problems refugees face.

We implement a project in Mardin province, Turkey, in partnership with the international humanitarian aid organization Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and funding from European Union Humanitarian Aid. The project aims at increasing the living standards of refugees in rural areas and ensuring their access to rights and services while supporting their active participation in the community.

Let us tell you how the last year in Mardin area has been for us and our beneficiaries.


Living conditions of refugees in Turkey had already become more difficult before the pandemic-induced restrictions. Due to the border mobility that started in October 2019, pandemic cases began to occur in the country before the refugees who took refuge in the villages located on the Syrian border could be registered. This prevented the community from enjoying fundamental rights and services such as health and education. During this period, the risk faced by vulnerable groups, especially newborns and those with chronic diseases, was much greater. As Support for Life field teams, we help these vulnerable groups to access registration and services.


In the last month of 2019, a modification was made in the 'Foreigners and International Protection Law' that related to people under international protection very closely. With the new regulation entering into effect, health provisions for refugees with international protection status who have lived in Turkey for more than 1 year were stopped. Thus, apart from vulnerable groups and emergency response, access to free health care for persons under international protection ended. Occurring just before the pandemic hit Turkey, this development caused concern among internationally protected refugees. The most solid embodiment of this concern in Mardin was observed in the Yazidi community.  During the initial period of the pandemic, the following remarks made by a Yazidi client during a meeting with our case team both summed up these concerns and mobilized our teams:

“Many of us do not go to the hospital until our disease gets worse because if we go, we have to cut back on food in order to pay for examination and medicine. While everyone is afraid of being infected, we are afraid of how we can afford treatment if we are infected”.

As Support to Life team, while we were trying to understand the problems faced by people whose access to health care had been restricted after this legal regulation and to carry out advocacy in this regard, a physical barrier came between us due to the pandemic-induced quarantine. Therefore, we have lost tools such as home visits, face-to-face interviews and group activities that allowed us to understand problems in more detail.


On February 29, 2020, when Turkey opened the border with Greece, many refugees left the cities where they lived to cross to Europe and an uncertain wait began under very difficult conditions. After weeks of waiting, the refugees returned to the cities they had come from. We provided support to those who do not have access to any rights and services because they’re not registered. We witnessed the difficult conditions they were in since we accompanied some of them. We were with them during the process of bringing a group of refugees, including unaccompanied children to Mardin and securing their transportation to the provinces where they were registered,

While we were trying to adapt to the remote working order brought by the 'new normal', we began to receive help requests for urgent basic-needs-, especially food assistance, from our beneficiaries. Not only us, but many non-governmental organizations in the field received these requests. Refugees struggled to meet their basic needs since many had lost their jobs. As the restrictions continued, the problems diversified and became even more evident.

Homes that were safe for some, unfortunately, were not safe for everyone. We focused on reaching out to groups that are exposed to gender-based violence by using our online tools.


Measures taken within the scope of the pandemic have seriously affected children as well. With the transition to the online education system, children faced many challenges, including the restriction of socialization opportunities and having access to the right to education. Children who did not have a computer and internet access or had to share these tools with many family members, faced the risk of drop-out school to work. Especially most of the children who lives in ‘Kuyubaşı’ district in Mardin, where agricultural activities were carried out, had to work with their parents in this process. Our report ‘Comprehensive Needs Analysis for Yazidis living in Mardin and Batman’ (written in Turkish) published in May 2020 confirmed these findings


What did we do about these problems as social workers in the field? We developed new methods to overcome the challenges posed by the restrictions. We have been in more regular contact with public institutions and organizations throughout the pandemic. We provide current information to thousands of refugees about current services, restrictions and measures. We place greater emphasis on advocacy activities and we had meetings with public institutions either online or in person.

We hope to soon be able to support our beneficiaries face-to-face in the field again. We are aware that we will return to the field having been tested under difficult conditions and having learned important lessons. Maybe things won't be the same, but we are hopeful for the future that we will build together.

Berfin Ordu
Support to Life Social Worker / Mardin
Abdurrahman Kaya
Support to Life Social Worker / Mardin


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