Girl reunites with family in Syria after 1.5-year-long treatment in Turkey
Zeynep Bilgehan – HATAY / MERSİN
A Syrian girl who was brought to Turkey to receive treatment after sustaining a critical injury last year and has since been under Turkey’s protection has reunited with her family in her war-ravaged country.
The 15-year-old girl, whose name was not revealed, saw her mother, father, and six siblings for the first time after a year-and-a-half at the Yayladağı border gate in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, which borders Syria.
After officials from the Turkish Red Crescent (“Kızılay” in Turkish) and the Family and Social Policies Ministry delivered the girl to her family waiting and accompanied by International Committee of the Red Cross officials on Nov. 21, the family and the girl ceased their longing before embarking on their trip back to their home in the Syrian city of Latakia.
“I did not have my own family here [in Turkey], but I made a new family, my Turkish family. I loved the staff and children in the children’s shelter; they were all very nice. I will miss everyone,” the Syrian girl said before departing with her own family for Syria.
“I want to be a teacher. I then want to come back to Turkey and visit the shelter where I stayed at. I will keep in touch with my friends [in the shelter]. I will not forget these days,” she said.
The girl was brought to the southern Turkish province of Mersin in 2017 following a severe head injury sustained in a bombing in Syria. She underwent 22 surgeries in Turkey, including several to rebuild her face. When the girl opened her eyes, her family was not by her side, as they had stayed back in Syria. The mother had lost contact with her daughter and did not know her whereabouts.
Thanks to the efforts of the Turkish Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross officials, three months after the bombing, the girl’s family learned their daughter was alive and being treated in Turkey.
“The separation was really hard. I wish every family separated can reunite with their relatives,” the mother, Wedad M., said following the reunion one-and-a-half years later on Nov. 21.
During this time period, the Turkish Family and Social Policies Ministry placed the girl under their protection and settled her in a children’s shelter in Mersin. The girl received intense physical and psychological treatments during her stay there. She also took Turkish classes, with most of the support coming from her friends at the shelter. She picked up Turkish in just five months.
The girl was found to be attending eighth grade in Syria, prompting Turkish authorities to provide her with the relevant classes for her to finish middle school. She was then placed in a vocational high school, upon her own request.
Among those to bid farewell to the Syrian girl at the Yayldağı border gate was the manager of the Mersin children’s shelter, Faruk Azgıt.
“We are sad to be parting ways with her, but happy that we have delivered her to her own mother and father… We have given her a certificate documenting her school level before her departure. We provided her the opportunity to proceed from first year of high school because she wants to continue going to school,” Azgıt said.
Despite the family learning the whereabouts of their daughter three months after the bombing, the family reunion did not immediately take place due to the length of the coordination works between the two countries and the authorities seeking the “best interest of the child.”
“The completion of procedures took about one year. First, she was a bit worried, but as time passed, she made friends. She was always very strong,” İclal Karabey, an official working at the Turkish Red Crescent, told daily Hürriyet. Karabey added that if the girl’s name had not been correctly written on official records, it would have taken authorities much longer to find her family.
Hundreds of people remain missing due to the Syrian civil war. The 15-year-old is said to be one of the “lucky” people, because 46 families are currently still looking for their beloved ones who have gone missing in the same bombing last year.
Since the beginning of 2017, a total of 758 refugees were reported missing to the Turkish Red Crescent as part of the “Restoring Family Links Program.” The organization also received 549 requests for family reunions, but until now it has been able to realize only 19 reunions.
“We are working together with the International Committee of the Red Cross [to find refugees reported missing]. We have no geographical limit. Since families are constantly migrating due to war conditions, they cannot even sometimes find their family members [who went missing] in their own countries,” said Bayram Selvi, the deputy director of the Turkish Red Crescent’s Immigration and Refugee Services.