News

Illness, Disabilities Mount among Syrian Refugees

July 7, 2017

  Syrian refugee woman in poor housing.
Living conditions are dismal for a Syrian refugee mother whose husband has been in prison in Syria for four years for unknown reasons. Her eldest daughter begs on a street corner while she cares for younger children.

Ali is a 3-year-old boy from Syria who cannot walk or talk. Doctors do not know why, but being born in a refugee tent in Turkey to malnourished parents who are no longer present may have something to do with it.

At a makeshift tent camp in southern Turkey, Ali relies on his 12-year-old sister and stepfather to take care of him. His father was killed in Syria's civil war, and after Ali's mother remarried, she "lost her mind and disappeared," the head of an indigenous ministry said.

"She lost her mind because of her husband being killed," he said. "So she left the children, and nobody knows where she is."

Ali is one of thousands of refugees in Turkey with little or no chance to get medical care. Last year the Turkish government began requiring refugees to list an address at a home or official refugee camp in order to renew their residency cards, without which they cannot obtain medical care. Only 10 percent of Turkey's more than 3 million refugees endure the official refugee camps, where physical abuse is rife, and of the rest, about 90 percent crowd into apartments — typically four families in one unit. The remainder, unable to afford to share an apartment, put up tents as they are able.

"About 10 to 15 percent of the refugees don't have medical care — they don't live in an apartment or an official camp," said the ministry director, whose name is withheld for security reasons. "Another problem with medical care is language. When they go to the hospital, there's nobody who speaks Arabic, or none of the refugees are speaking Turkish."

Ali's relatives once managed to bring him to a doctor, the ministry director learned, but no one understood what was said. Nor did they have the resources to pay for an MRI or a blood test to help determine a course of treatment. The director said that because of communication problems, many refugees remain ill or injured because they receive the wrong treatment.

"So if you have a serious illness, the doctor will just write you some medicine and let you go, and maybe a week later you may die," he said. "And nobody even investigates how or why you died."

He estimates that 60 percent of Syrian refugees born in Turkey in the past three years are physically disabled, and about 10 percent are emotionally impaired — some to the extent that they cannot talk. Since Syria's civil war began six years ago, 200,000 Syrian babies have been born in refugee camps in Turkey, the United Nations estimated.

Visiting refugees in their tents every 10 days, the ministry director and his team of three other full-time workers and four volunteers see the illnesses and can secure a doctor who can write prescriptions. The ministry can then buy antibiotics and other medicines for refugees who would otherwise not be able to obtain them.

As a native of the undisclosed town where the refugee camps are located, the director has connections enabling him to find private doctors willing to visit the refugees. They are weary of empty promises from foreign groups. Ali's stepfather became so angry at foreigners who repeatedly came to take photos and video but never provided any aid that he asked the director to tell them to stop coming.

"They're promising that they're going to take them to the hospital, bring help for him, and they don't come back," the director said. "Then three months later, they come back with some cookies and some candies and take another video and pictures. They don't know the language, they don't help, and the stepfather was very angry."

Another Syrian refugee was equally embittered — so skeptical about aid agencies that when the director first approached him, he told him to "get out of here."

A Syrian child passes the night in dilapidated quarters in Turkey.
A Syrian child passes the night in dilapidated quarters in Turkey.

A native of Raqqa in his 70s, the refugee had been living in back of a bus station before police kicked him and others out. The director found him at a new site where refugees had erected about 100 makeshift tents. The refugee told him, "Everybody comes and takes a picture, makes a video, they register our name, but they never come back. You're one of them." A friend whom the indigenous ministry had helped assured him that the director was not a liar, and the refugee said, "No, we will see."

With assistance from Christian Aid Mission, two weeks later the director was able to bring food, clean water and other relief items.

"He saw me with the boxes we brought for them, and he was crying," he said. "He came and he hugged me. He said, 'We really thank you, you are the only man during the last two years that kept his word.'"

A few months later, the ministry included a Bible in the aid, and for a half a year the refugee had vigorous discussions with the director about Islam and Jesus Christ. The refugee said the director was wrong, that Islam is the final religion eclipsing all preceding ones, and the Koran God's final word. After some months, the refugee fell ill and asked the director to pray for him.

Lying on his bed on the tent floor, the refugee told him, "I don't know if I'm going to be alive tomorrow or not, but your message is always in my mind. I want to go to heaven, but I don't know how." The director told him he had to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and God, and that He would forgive him and take him into the kingdom of heaven with Him.

"He started crying," the director said. "He said, 'I don't know if I can do that or not.' I said he could do it, and he called his brother, daughter and sons, and he said, 'I'm making a decision that I'm having Jesus Christ as God and Savior. I want you to come with me with that, believe it with me,' because in the Middle Eastern culture, whatever the fathers do, the rest of the family has to follow it."

The refugee repeated the director's prayer that Christ died on the cross for his sins, and he received Him as Savior and Lord.

"And a week later, he became healthy," the director said. "So he's always teaching his family the Christian life."

Donors to Christian Aid Mission have helped heal Syrian refugees, and your support would enable the ministry to do much more to bring relief and to reach them with the hope of Christ. Please help provide poor families with food and other necessities with your gift today.


SC: MIR