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Home Global Activities Asia Tzu Chi's Aid Efforts for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Tzu Chi's Aid Efforts for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

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Before the start of the civil war, Syria’s population was one of the youngest and most educated in the region, with nearly all Syrian children enrolled in primary and secondary schools. Now, nearly 12 million Syrians have been forced from their homes, half being children, causing more than 2 million school-aged children unable to attend schools. According to UNICEF, the decline in education for Syrian children has been the sharpest educational decline in the history of the region. In Turkey, UNHCR has registered and aided 1,700,000 Syrian refugees, but by 2015, the Turkish government will have an estimated number of 2.5 million Syrian refugees, 80% or more being women and children. This influx of refugees from not just Syria, but also neighboring countries such as Iraq, has further strained Turkey’s economic and societal infrastructure.

To help alleviate the burden on host countries, NGOs, foreign governments, and the international community have mobilized to provide relief and aid; however, even nongovernmental support is becoming increasingly strained. However, NGOs and INGOs such as the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation (BTCF), or Tzu Chi, has and is continuting to contribute to the humanitarian aid efforts for Syrian refugees, conducting food and non-food item distributions and providing financial subsidies to the parents of school-aged children. From the experience-based recommendations of NGOs working on the ground, ones such as World Vision, “Refugees need food, clothing, health assistance, shelter, and basic household and hygiene items. They need reliable supplies of clean water, as well as sanitation facilities. They’ll need warm clothing, heaters, and heating fuel to get through the coming winter months.” Taking these recommendations into account, Tzu Chi’s non-food item distributions include fuel, the organization’s eco-blankets made from recycled PET bottles, and donated winter clothing. In October 2015, the organization has held several mid to large scale distributions, benefiting over 2,000 Syrian refugee families and individuals in Turkey. Since 2011, Tzu Chi has engaged in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees living Turkey, providing cash/debit cards and food aid, benefitting more than 40,000 individuals as of June 2015.

The material aid and distributions is but a way to help provide for Syrian refugees’s basic human needs; but there are still other needs that must be met, ones in the educational and psychosocial context. According to NGOs such as the Jesuit Relief Services (JRS) and aid workers on the ground, refugee students often face discrimination and bullying, often times segregated, having to attend schools at different hours and school sites from their Turkish peers, further, the many students who are not attending schools are, often times, the primary or even sole provider for their family. The struggles faced by refugees, most namely the school-aged children, may have deep, long-lasting, and damaging implications on their psychosocial and emotional well-being; recognizing this, Tzu Chi’s aid work is developed around the basis of empowerment, dignity, and advocacy of integration.

In one example of Tzu Chi’s programs, school-aged Syrian refugees at the two campuses of the Menahal Primary and Secondary school are provided with financial aid to attend school, their families given financial subsidies so that the children can have the opportunity to go to school and not have to work—77 to 277 USD depending on the families’ financial situation—and are given stationary supplies and toys, of which are considered luxuries by refugees. Although considered luxuries, stationaries and toys, at least to the ideals of Tzu Chi and its volunteers, serve to show these children and their families that they are more than just refugees, that they, no matter what, still have their dignity and are not forgotten. Moreover, investment in education, which is often times a forgotten factor in humanitarian assistance funding, is vital for integration; and economic, social, and cultural integration is, as directed by UNHCR during its’s Annual NGO Consultations in Geneva, the strongest and most durable long-term solution to the refugee crisis.

Just as empowerment and dignity are the basis of Tzu Chi’s investment in education, so too is the organization’s model for food and non-food item distributions. Using Tzu Chi’s own 80/20 principle that teaches social responsibility—by consuming 80% of what is normally consumed, 20% can be saved and given to those less fortunate—Syrian refugees, who are already struggling in their own personal ways, not only are recruited as Tzu Chi volunteers to take part and lead in aid efforts, but donate to those even less fortunate, thereby empowering themselves to become givers rather than just receivers.

If integration is key in the long-term solution for the refugee crisis, opportunities must first be given. Aid work must be based around compassion and empathy, with utmost sincerity and respect, not looking at them as merely refugees in need, but as human beings who have been caught and trapped in an extreme and unfortunate situation. Although Syrian refugees are foreigners in Turkey and will, at least for the moment and the near future strain the country’s social infrastructure, they can, if given the support and opportunity, eventually prove to be an integral part of Turkey’s, and other host countries’, society.

By Tzu Chi Foundation USA

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