Syrian children say they feel at home in Turkey
Gizem Coşkunarda – ISTANBUL
“I grew up here and I have got used to Turkey. I feel like I belong here, I love [Turkey] so much. When someone asks I tell them that I am Turkish,” said 13-year-old Zehra Soub, who came to Turkey at age five. Zehra said she does not want to return to Syria.
“I do not know where we came from but I remember the sounds of war,” said Meryem Safa, an eight-year-old who came five years ago.
Some 1.65 million Syrian children are currently living in Turkey, but only 650,000 of them are able to receive education. The remaining 1 million are referred to as the “lost generation.”
“Returning [to Syria] is impossible now. Children know that. I believe 90 percent [of Syrians] will stay [in Turkey],” said Murat Erdoğan, the founder of the Migration and Politics Center of the Ankara-based Hacettepe University.
“I do not remember Syria. My mother told me that we will not go back, but I do not know where ‘there’ is. I only know this street that I live on,” said Muhammed Soub, 11. But Muhammed left school because of the physical abuse he was subjected to by his teacher.
“Other kids also fight with me. But I live here, too. I, too, speak Turkish. We are very happy here, we will not go back,” he added.
Another Syrian child from Aleppo, Ahmed Safa, 10, said his Turkish neighbors kept mocking him and his family.
Erdoğan touched on a rising anger being accumulated among Turkish and refugee children which he fears could lead to major problems in the future.
“These children are not a part of the war and it is not their decision to be in Turkey right now. We need to stop lost generations from emerging,” he said.
Nesrin El-Ali, a 13-year-old girl, has said she lived “the worst day of my life” in Aleppo, when a jet bombed a school near her uncle’s house. Their hometown under rubble, her family left and moved to Turkey.
She identifies as a Turk because her mother married a Turk.
“Aleppo was nice until three bombs were dropped in front of our door,” said Muhammed Abbas, a 16-year-old teen.
“I cannot speak Turkish very well. I have never been to Syria. My mother and father are Syrian but I am from Turkey,” said Sabriye Soub, who is seven and earns little money by showing the house in a Turkish TV series to tourists.
“A lot has changed since 2015. Syria became a battlefield for global powers. Those who came since 2011 have established new lives,” said Erdoğan, adding that 410,000 Syrian babies were born in Turkey since 2011.
Erdoğan stressed that Syrian children were facing challenges in schools because of linguistic differences, adding that at least 60,000 teachers are needed to quell this.
“But still, that 600,000 children are receiving education is a major success,” he said.
Şebnem Koşer Akçapar, a board member of the Migration Research Center of the Istanbul-based Koç University, said that it is in Turkey’s interest to integrate Syrian children and youth to society.
“They will be bridges between two countries. Turkey is a migration country, whether we like it or not. We need to manage this well,” she said.
Akçapar stressed that Turkey needs to provide Syrians training and decent work opportunities, while ensuring that they are employable and self-sufficient.
While praising the enrollment rate, she said “the problems have not ended, only evolved. For different socioeconomic reasons, there are many Syrian children who still cannot go to school.”