A look into the lives of displaced Syrians at the Oncupinar Refugee Camp in southern Turkey.
The seven-year civil war in Syria has pushed tens of thousands of people out of their homes, making them refugees in various countries. Turkey received an influx of 3.5 million Syrians. About 13,000 of them are living in the Oncupinar Refugee Camp in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border.
We recently visited the refugee settlement to spend time with some of the families currently residing in the container camp. These are their stories.
1. Ruwayda (age 9, Khirbat al Jawz, Syria)
I have been in the camp for a long time, I don’t know how long exactly, but I know it has been very long.
I like it here; I go to school in the morning and play in the park during the day with my friends.
I love eating – my favourite food is Mulukhiyah [spinach] and rice and Turkish kebab.
When I grow up, I am going to be a kindergarten teacher because I like teaching children new things. I look forward to working in a school.
I think I am very brave. Some of the children in the camp are scared of animals and other things, but I am not. I am not afraid of anything.
2. Farid al Shaikh Ali (Idlib, Syria)
My family and I left Syria and crossed the border into Turkey six years ago. In Syria, I made mosaic art pieces for a company in Idlib. We designed pieces for various companies in the Gulf and around Europe.
It has been around two-and-a-half to three years since I and my family obtained my Turkish Citizenship. We were fortunate enough to be granted our citizenship by President Erdogan himself.
My two daughters, now aged 9 and 12, were interviewed by TRT a few years back.
Soon afterwards we were called to go to Ankara. We didn’t know why but we were informed that the president’s wife, Emine Erdogan, would be there. I made a mosaic portrait of her as a gift for her. She asked us about our situation and the conditions in the camp.
I told her the facilities available were more than sufficient and that we were happy. We came safely; we didn’t experience the difficulties many others had.
I also expressed to her that my only wish was to secure the safety and future of my children – for them to be able to access education. I don’t believe that the war in Syria will end anytime soon, and I just want my children to able to continue their lives in Turkey.
A month after the trip we were called to sign some papers and were granted Turkish Citizenship, after which we moved out of the camp.
My daughter is currently in her third year of university. She is studying Geography, and the rest of my children are all in school.
My wife and I still come every day to work in the camp. I teach mosaic art and she teaches textiles. I feel proud; not just to be part of the camp but also to be able to contribute in whatever way I am able to.
3. Sameera (age 70, Idlib, Syria)
I just want to be with my children. I have seven children; three boys and four girls. But I haven’t seen any of them for eight years. Last I heard, some of them were in Syria and some in Iraq. But I don’t know where the rest of them are.
I am alone here, in the camp. My son was with me, but he left and went back to Syria.
I am almost blind. I can only see out of my right eye, which makes daily tasks hard for me. I love Turkey and its people, but I want to go back to my country. Everyone here loves the Turkish people; I always have time for them.
Yesterday I saw Erdogan in my dream. I was sitting with him and reciting a poem I had written:
‘O Erdogan may you have a long life/may your life be long; O tree of life, we have thrived off your fruit/your goodness; and when hardship fell upon us, o Erdogan, no one lifted our load but you.’
4. Budur and Asma (age 5, Aleppo, Syria)
Our father was martyred in the war, so we live with our mum, elder sister and brother.
We want to become doctors when we grow up – but the type that only cares for children. Ice cream makes children happy, so we will make sure we have lots of ice cream to give them! They will feel better, then.
We want to work in the hospital in Kilis. However, if we go back to Syria one day, we want to work together in a hospital there.
5. Meys (age12, Latakia, Syria)
I live in the camp with my family. I have three siblings – we are a family of six. I love Turkey, and I love living here; I have been here for six years, and I go to the Salaam School in the Öncüpınar Camp in Kilis.
I plan on becoming an English teacher when I grow up. I can’t speak much English but I am going to learn. I already know Turkish – we have lessons in school, and I can even sing in Turkish. My hobby is singing; I can sing all day. I think I have a nice voice. I sing together with my sister and sometimes with my friends.
I like the camp, but I am scared of the insects that I see, sometimes. I am also afraid of snakes. There is a boy in the camp who has two small snakes that he keeps in a large bottle. Whenever I see him take the snakes out of the bottle I get goosebumps.
I have a cat and his name is Trump. People laugh when I tell them that. The reason I named the cat Trump is because I hate Donald Trump. I feel his name is not worthy of a human, so I decided to use it for an animal.
6. Rimel (age18, Aleppo, Syria)
I entered Turkey through the Bab al Salaam border crossing a few years ago.
When I complete school, I hope to become a journalist. Three years ago, I returned to Syria and filmed the destruction and ruins of what remains of our hometowns. I shared it online so that people in the camp and others around the world are able to see what everything looks like now.
The film wasn’t for people to become sad and disheartened but to inspire them to work, to keep working harder and harder. We need to stay focused and keep educating ourselves so when the day comes for us to return to Syria, we will be able to return as the generation that will rebuild Syria and make it better for our own children.