My name is Serhat Akbal. I began working in civil society by working as a volunteer during my university years and now I work for Support to Life, which I think is one of the humanitarian aid organizations in Turkey that is doing quality work.
I work as a ‘Protection Project Manager’ in the Support to Life House in Istanbul. With my team, we help Syrians under temporary protection access information and services, we strive to raise awareness both among the Syrian community and the host community, and do protection work so that we make a contribution to social cohesion.
The Syrian crisis is about to conclude its seventh year – the figures help us comprehend the sheer magnitude of it. It costed the lives of more than 400,000 people. We talk about a crisis that has displaced –internally or externally– approximately 12 million people and left 13 million people dependent on humanitarian aid. We have around 4 million people that found refugee inside the Turkish borders. Turkish soil provides a safe shelter for the Syrians, but is yet to become a land of prospects where they can contemplate a new life, and begin building self-reliant livelihoods. We all witnessed it – some 20.000 people that made a leap of faith and began a ‘journey of hope’ have lost their lives on the way, and the number keeps rising.
We still have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to design and implementation of comprehensive, needs-based policies – the data shows that since 2011, 300,000 children were born in Turkey, another 800,000 children are continuing their education in Turkey. In addition, some 56.000 Syrians are now Turkish citizens. These figures show that a common future in and by itself is taking shape. In this regard, we must think of civil society organizations as facilitators of well-needed social interaction and exchange.
There are 3,6 million Syrians with temporary protection status in Turkey. While the exact figure remains unknown, it is estimated that another 400 million Syrians are in Turkey without documentation. In other words, approximately 4 million people are deemed to be ‘temporary’ residents, or their existence is simply an unknown. No wonder this precarity gives rise to all sorts of protection needs. Let me give you some examples…
Take Ali, who is 8. He cannot go to school because he is not registered. Or 36-year-old Muhammed; he is left with no choice but to work without social security. Even though Emine, 25, has the status of temporary protection, her mobility is restricted and she is unable to travel to a city of her choosing. Individual lives are impacted in innumerable ways – some subtle, some not. The bottom line is that we must do more than letting people cross the border, and that crossing the border doesn’t readily grant one the opportunities to live as an individual who has free access to her/his basic rights. This is Support to Life and other organizations working in the same domain step in.
Support to Life’s activities in Istanbul are based in our community center in Küçükçekmece – we refer to these as Support to Life Houses. Küçükçekmece is one of the three neighborhoods that have the largest Syrian communities. We’ve been located here since 2015 and, in addition to the protection services we provide, we are widening the scope of activities, contributing to a shared future together with our Support to Life Hubs –consultation offices– that are active in the area.
These ‘hubs’ aim to provide specialized support to refugee communities, enhance their capacities and resilience through the facilitation of access to basic needs and rights, and build their awareness on prevalent issues they may face. Operating as the implementing partner of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH) and with the funding of European Union through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, our activities in these hubs are planned to address the needs of not just the Syrian community, but also the members of the host community. At the same time, we strive to increase the awareness of society as a whole –including the wider public, public institutions and other NGOs– on issues surrounding forced migration.
With this outlook, and with the activities we engage in; we aim to enable everyone living in Turkey live with shared human dignity, ensure that each and every single refugee, regardless of legal status, is given access to basic rights and services, facilitate a transition from an atmosphere of tension to a vision of a ‘shared future.’ We hope that Turkey, as a whole, will fulfill the conscientious responsibility it took upon itself to the fullest extent.
As our director Sema Genel Karaosmanoğlu once wrote, “As we are aware that our own future cannot be shaped in isolation from the shared future of humanity as a whole; we will not give up safeguarding the Syrian refugees and their future so that traumas are not carried on, that children do not grab arms but their notebooks and toys, and so that the future is rife with hope.”
We will keep on supporting life for a future together.