Refugees in Turkey Forgotten after Failed Coup

September 1, 2016

Crowds demonstrate for democracy at a protest in Istanbul, Turkey.

The recent failed coup in Turkey has diverted attention from the country's refugee crisis, even as more of them see Turkey as their only option in spite of an upsurge in hostilities toward them.

Following the attempted coup by a faction of the Turkish Armed Forces on July 15, the government announced a three-month state of emergency and embarked on a purge of state institutions that shook a wide array of sectors, from the military to education to media.

"Because of the recent coup and attack on democracy in our country, our country is under pressure for the next three months, and no one is showing interest in the Syrian refugee situation anymore," the director of a ministry based in Turkey said. "Because of this, we are trying to double our efforts to help."

As European countries close their doors to Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war and atrocities of Islamic extremist groups like the Islamic State (IS), the refugees are beginning to see Turkey as their only option in spite of growing societal hostility and the difficulties of adapting to a different culture and language, he said.

"There are many that have fled to Europe but have died along the way," he said. "Those going are returning to Turkey. But most Turkish people do not want to see Syrians become Turkish citizens. They are shouting this in the streets, and it makes us sad. Syrians are saying they will return to their homeland if the war ends."

He also noted that Arabic-speaking refugees who have taken the time to learn Turkish become more friendly and trusting. Others rely on their children's ability to learn Turkish.

"The children are learning Turkish very fast and are helping their families," the ministry director said. "They are also helping us. When we arrive in the trucks at the tent camps, they yell to everyone, 'The Christian helpers have come!' They are helping people line up so we can distribute things orderly and effectively. It used to not be this way."

As the ministry visits unofficial camps in southern Turkey twice a month, bringing medicine, vitamins, feminine hygiene items, clean water and other aid to 3,500 people, the refugee children also translate the workers' prayers for them in their tents, he said. After months of serving them, the ministry workers are beginning to see changes in the refugees' spiritual vocabulary.

"In Turkey, Muslims say the words, Hazreti Isa to express that Jesus was a prophet - they have in mind the meaning, 'Prophet Jesus,'" the director said. "But now the refugees are saying 'Jesus Christ' like us, instead of Prophet Jesus. Praise God that seeds are begining to take root. In every tent, when we talk about Jesus, we are seeing this change when we translate. They say and use these words more often."

Many of the refugee children are traumatized after witnessing atrocities committed against relatives and friends. They have nothing as they seek ways to pass their days in the tent camps, and the ministry has begun buying Bible-based coloring books for them.

"We also want to purchase toys that are specifically designed to help children deal with traumatic issues," the leader said. "These children will not forget the good things done for them - serving the children helps bring some peace and comfort to their parents in these difficult times."

The ministry is providing milk formula for infants and wheat, rice, oil and sugar to women who have lost their husbands. In order to encourage the children to read the coloring books, the ministry leader promised to give them a piece of chocolate for every one they read.

"When we go to the camps, they run to us and show the books they have read and the notebooks they have filled with pictures - this brings us joy, seeing these things used," he said. "They colored them all so beautifully and wanted to show them to me. In order to keep our promise, we gave chocolate to the children. And then we prayed for them in the name of Jesus and sent them off."

A child is overjoyed to receive aid at an unofficial camp in southern Turkey.

He told of a refugee woman who had lost her husband and who regularly took her 14- and 7-year-old children with her to the work she had found on a farm. Her employers' threatened to fire her unless she would "become the wife" of one of the supervisors, who was already married.

"This woman had to choose whether to lose her job or lose her honor," he said. "She grabbed her children and went back to the camp. When she returned, all of their stuff had been taken by other refugees."

The team found her sitting under a blanket to protect herself and her children from the sun. She ran to the aid team and asked for money to go to a camp in another city to be near her relatives.

"We said to this woman, 'We are giving this money to you unconditionally because Jesus loves you unconditionally,'" he said. "She started to cry, and when other mothers saw the situation, they began to cry as well."

The ministry director said he could not hold back his own tears either.

"The mother looked at her children and showed her children the gift that Christian Aid donors gave and smiled," he said. "I am sure that this woman has never experienced grace and unconditional love like this before. Please pray that the seed would grow in her heart. I thank you for helping us bring God's kingdom to these people."

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