Syrian refugees grateful for Turkey's assistance
Residents of the Kilis refugee camp welcome assistance amid complaints over costs of food and supplies.
By Dalia Mortada for SES Türkiye in Kilis -- 23/01/13
Barbed wire tops the walls encircling the Kilis refugee camp, located 90 minutes from Gaziantep. Cramped white container homes line its cobblestone roadways. Families make room for relatives, sometimes squeezing 15 people into one unit, though camp regulations allow up to 18.
WFP director Ertharin Cousin and Economy Minister Zafer Cagalayan meet with Syrian refugees in Kilis. [Dalia Mortada/SES Türkiye]
Just beyond the walls is Syria, from where the rumblings of war are clearly audible at night, as explosions shake the container homes, awakening residents.
Upwards of 14,000 Syrians -- 2,000 more than the camp was built for -- now call Kilis home. It's just one of 14 camps for up to 154,000 Syrian refugees established by the Turkish government along its southern border with the war-torn country. Many residents express appreciation for the support they've received, adding that life is far from ideal.
"Thankfully, the Turkish government has been so kind to us and provided us with so much," Randa, who ran for the position of camp leader (mukhtar) in elections held there recently, told SES Türkiye. The mother of two young children lives with her family and her brother's, putting 11 people in their container.
Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and Turkish Minister of Economy Zafer Cagalayan visited Kilis camp just ahead of the camp elections. They met with mukhtar candidates competing for the chance to represent six camp districts. Those who were elected will help Turkish authorities coordinate aid, health, education and security services.
"Turkey is glad to provide you with whatever is needed, today and in the future," Cagalayan told the candidates in a press conference. "The Turkish government alone, without the help of private donations or charities, has spent $360 million."
Scents of falafel and shawirma emanate through the camp. The refugees have no way to make money in the camp, but they make do with their savings and international aid.
Residents do their shopping at what they call "the mall," a two-story building stocked with a vegetable section, dry foods, dairy products and a meat counter. Clothes, kitchen and household accessories are also sold there. It is operated by the WFP and the Turkish Red Crescent.
For many goods, food at the market is more expensive than in stores in Kilis, stretching the 80 TL provided to families to buy food each month. Cucumbers that cost 1 TL in Kilis cost 2.5 or 3 TL in the market. Tomatoes and flour are also higher.
"We have gone to Kilis and seen for ourselves our prices are higher," Abdul Mou'in, a Syrian refugee who works at the market's meat counter, told SES Türkiye. Other camp residents nodded in agreement.
Abeer Etefa, the senior regional public information officer at the WFP for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, said her agency was investigating residents' concerns.
"We will have to monitor and see if our prices here [at the camp] are higher than in Kilis. If so, we have to ask if it's because of transportation or other factors," she said, adding that the aid provided is based on a calculation that ensures each adult camp resident could get 2,100 kilocalories a day.
Some residents also expressed trouble with the payment system used in the camps. Families are given two cards with money on them: one electronic voucher card from the WFP and Kizilay that can only be used to buy food, and another from the Prime Minister's Office on Disaster and Emergency Management (AFAD) to purchase other supplies.
Abdul Mou'in said the 4 TL allocated weekly to each resident through the AFAD programme is sometimes not sufficient to meet his family's needs.
"Two of my four kids are in diapers, and one bag of diapers costs 16 TL. I only have 24 TL to spend on these things every week, so if I need diapers, I can't get laundry detergent or baby bottles or pacifiers," he said. He suggested combining the money from the two cards into one monthly lump sum of 96 TL per person, so people can spend the money as they need.
Yavuz Kaya, chief administrator for AFAD at Kilis camp, said the 96 TL given monthly to each refugee should be sufficient, since the Turkish government covers housing, electricity and water expenses.
"As a civil servant, I spend about the same on my food and other such expenses," Kaya said. "The money should be enough."
Etefa said the WFP is looking into residents' concerns to distribute aid more effectively.
Cousin said that the WFP is providing assistance to some 1.5 million displaced Syrians inside Syria to meet their food needs every month, along with another 250,000 refugees in neighbouring countries.
"The programme that supports the food needs of the refugees costs about $7-$10 million per month," she told camp residents. "This is a crisis that continues to go on, but we must not let one child go hungry."
Turkey is building six more camps to help accommodate the hundreds of thousands of fleeing Syrians waiting to enter from the other side of the border, officials said.