Syrian refugee children strive to get free food during iftar dinners in central Istanbul
A Syrian refugee girl runs after receiving a pack of food at an iftar event during Ramadan in Istanbul. REUTERS Photos / Yağız KarahanThe fast-breaking (iftar) dinners provided by Istanbul’s central Beyoğlu Municipality have become a rare opportunity for Syrian refugees to receive free and substantial meals.
The public iftars will be held every day until the end of Ramadan, in a space next to Taksim Square and Gezi Park – the epicenter of last-year’s nationwide demonstrations. The area has since become a haven for dozens of Syrian families – mostly mothers with babies and children - who beg for survival.
Refugee children who try to get the care package, which are reserved only for locals, often scuffle with municipality workers. If they don't manage to obtain one, they sometimes rush to collect a used pack before it is thrown in the garbage.
Recently, Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu threatened to send refugees living on the streets of the city to camps in southeastern Turkey.
“We have warned them continuously and told them not to beg. But they are insistent. If they don’t stop begging we will make an administrative decision and send them to a [refugee] camp,” Mutlu told Reuters on July 21.
“Istanbul residents have demanded this,” he said, adding that out of the 67,000 Syrians estimated to be in the city, only a few hundred were persistently begging.
Nevertheless, Syrian refugees in Istanbul often live in total poverty, and with state officials still having little idea of who is in the country and what their needs are, the refugees – for now – remain dependent on the goodwill of their neighbors.