Muhammed (32) “As soon as I arrived to Turkey, I started working as a day laborer in the fields. Then I came to Istanbul. I gathered all my savings, and started this shoe shop to have my own job.”

Muhammed had a shoe business back in Syria. Didn’t just sell them, he made them too. Apart from common daily struggles, he and his family didn’t have much to be troubled by. Until the war broke out… When they had to leave Syria 5 years ago, what pushed him forward was his determination for a new beginning. He didn’t break his promise to himself. Even though his current workshop is smaller compared to what he had back home, he is still a shoe-maker like was back home.


Muhammed (32) “There are a lot of people from Syria who’s been through the same hardships as I did. They also came here, and they try to earn a living. I have 15 people working in my workshop, all from Syria.”

Muhammed’s entrepreneurial spirit is not an exception. Since 2011, refugees from Syria have established more than 10.000 business in Turkey and created employment opportunities for more than 100.000 people. Relevant research demonstrates that refugees can, both as consumers and producers, contribute to local economies, contrary to common negative perceptions.


According to June 2019 data of Directorate General of Migration Management, approximately 60% of Syrians are of working age. Thus, if we manage to assist them in accessing employing opportunities, we can help them become self-reliant, independent individuals, while also contributing to the local economy.


Said (22) “We crossed the border in 2015 and came straight to Istanbul. I am 22, I have two older brothers. We all work in this workshop, making shoes. We work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. I just have my Sundays off, and I use that to learn Turkish.”

When you ask “What are you up to?” Said simply says: “I work.” He was 18 when they escaped the war and in this new country, their top priority was always the same; to find work, to work, to make a living. Istanbul is tough, life is costly. They cannot pay their rent, afford food, pay their bills unless they all work. On the other hand, it’s been 4 years and Said is not comfortable with still not being able to speak Turkish. He knows that it is hard to adapt without leaving this workshop much, without learning the languages, without meeting new people. That’s why, he dedicates his only day-off to learning Turkish. Whenever he is by himself, he watches videos in Turkish.


All around the world, one of the biggest obstacles to returning to normal daily lives for refugees is to learn a new language.


Jud (33) “My wife and I were married through a religious ceremony. We don’t have any official document for it because my wife is not registered here. We faced many problems when my son was born.”

Jud and Hiya got married in Istanbul. They decorated their house with the help of their families and neighbors. Jud worked in a textile workshop and they made ends meet. Hiya’s pregnancy has been a newfound source of joy and they began waiting for the new member of their family. Everything went well throughout her pregnancy. When the day came, they couldn’t go to a public hospital because Hiya did not have registration. She had to give birth in a private hospital. Their newborn was diagnosed with jaundice. But they had already exhausted their finances. When the doctor diagnosed the case as being serious, they baby was transported to a public hospital. He stayed in an incubator for 9 days and overcame the illness. Yet, the bills had to be paid. The hospital administration called Jud and said he what he did was simply criminal.


Jud could only pay the hospital bill with the support of a humanitarian aid organization. He stresses how we was hurt when called a criminal. Their son, by now 9-months old, could receive his ID card with Support to Life’s assistance. Hiya’s registration is also underway. Jud adds, “I wish our paths crossed with Support to Life before my son was born” and as he says this, his eyes are fixed on the ID card of his son.


Hassan (22) “I am a Support to Life Volunteer. We try to reach out to people from Syria, listen to their troubles, and seek to find solutions within Support to Life’s scope of services. We deliver information sessions in people’s homes, workplaces and Support to Life offices.

Hassan came to Turkey from Syria 7 years ago. It was his brother that had arrived first, to find a new home, which was lucky for Hassan. He came later and joined his brother. He finished his high school education here. Meanwhile, he took Turkish language classes in offered by various civil society organizations. His Turkish is fluent, both in writing and speaking. He works as a translator at a hospital. He knows very well how hard it can be when patients cannot communicate even a simple ailment to the doctors. He says that what he got to see in his work pushed him to do more to help.


Hassan (22) “There are many shoe and textile workshops here, employing refugees. They always have to work; they don’t know what their rights are. We go from workshop to workshop, inform them of their rights and duties.”

After seeing the troubles people face trying to express themselves at the hospital he works in, Hassan thought he had to do more to help out. His first encounter with Support to Life was thanks to the Turkish language classes he took. Then he applied to become a volunteer. Hassan has a lot of young refugees in his social network. He decided that the best way to reach them was to visit their workplaces. Now, he is visiting workplaces in areas with large refugee communities, and informs them on how to access to healthcare, what their basic rights and duties are, and how they could apply for a work permit.


Community-member volunteers play an important role in information and awareness-raising activities, because they understand prevailing challenges best, and they have sound knowledge of appropriate channels of communication.


Manat (11) “I really like draw. I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up.

Manat is at second grade, she shares the same classroom as her sister, who is two years younger. She of course is upset that she lost two years of education. When she was born, she was diagnosed with sipina bifida. Due to her condition, her mobility is restricted. But her paths crossed with Support to Life, and by referring them to relevant institutions, Support to Life could help her get an electric wheelchair. This way, she can head to school by herself, which is she is keen to have be back to.


Manat enjoys studying. She is full of dreams. Her family observes this and are highly supportive. When she didn’t have her wheelchair, her father would carry her on his back to take her to school. But him being the only breadwinner, this was a difficult routine to sustain. The family’s financial status did not permit them to buy a wheelchair. Now the entire family smiles when they speak of how good a drive Manar is. They are happy to have received this support.


Mohsen, Manat’s Father (34) “I built a ramp in front of our house so that Manat could go to school. The road was in a bad condition and was difficult for the wheelchair. With the help of the school management and the municipality, the road was fixed.”

Manat’s father Mohsen comes from a family that lived in Aleppo for generations. They were tradesman back in Syria. For him, leaving Aleppo was not just leaving a neighborhood; but meant leaving his family heritage, his work, his social surroundings behind. He found a few jobs, on an off, in the construction sector here. These new skills also came in handy when building a ramp for Manat, he says. He sounds proud when he talks about how he built the ramp and filled the potholes on the way to her school.


For many, being a refugee means having to start all over. For these people struggling to regain their independence, humanitarian aid can, at times, be a crucial enabler.


Fatima (38) “It was raining and storming outside. I looked out the back window and saw this bird. We immediately took it in. Then we bought this cage. This is a new home both for us, and for this bird.”

Fatima arrived from Deir ez-Zor, one of the areas that suffered the impact of war the most, 5 years ago IS administration, prohibitions, cruelty, and lastly, passing away of her husband… When she speaks, it is hard to comprehend if this is real life or a terrible nightmare. She describes how they crossed the border with a convoy of people, and reached Mersin. Her oldest son, only 14, began looking for work. Fatima also wants to work so that they can make ends meet and the other 4 kids can go to school. She could find work to do every now and then but it was always short term. Besim had to shoulder the burden. Besides, none of them could obtain their temporary protection status. When Besim, who worked at a restaurant at the time, got sick, Fatima began looking for support and reached Support to Life.


Fatima (38) “I am a high school graduate. My my oldest daughter could study for only 3 months. They had banned schools where we lived, saying it was ‘haram.’ Now we are here, things will fall in order. My biggest wish is to find a job and help my kids receive a decent education.

Support to Life helped Besim receive treatment for his illness and meanwhile initiated the process to help the whole family receive their temporary protection status. During this process, their pending applications were instrumental to move forward and already initiate the kids registration to school. It looked like Besim was about to being working again. But a private donor stepped in and with their financial support, Besim could study instead.


Nearly half of all refugees coming from Syria are refugees. Almost a million of them are at school age. According to 2019 data, with 695 thousand refugee children registered, another 400 thousand is unable to continue their education. Not having a temporary registration status is one obstacle. But another, more serious, problem is that these children, like Besim, have to work instead of going to school.


Elvin (30) “I studied to become a nurse. When I took my son the hospital here, the doctor was explaining what the trouble was and I couldn’t understand a Word of it. I sat in a corner and began crying.”

Elvin and her husband left Damascus for Turkey when their son was only 20-days old. When he was 1.5, her mother, having studied nursing, could tell something was wrong with his mobility. She took her son to the hospital but she did not know any Turkish. She couldn’t understand what the diagnosis was. Just at that moment of despair, someone sitting next to her said there were organizations that could provide translation support, and Elvin reached Support to Life.


At times, refugees struggle with the language barrier at the hospitals and accessing healthcare becomes difficult. Translation services offered at the hospitals, as well as referrals are crucial to fill these potential gaps in service accessibility.


Elvin (30) “We had already applied to receive a disability status for Eflin. We had accepted the situation. Then we found out that treatment was, in fact, possible, and that he could possibly walk. We found out thanks to Support to Life.”

Eflin is now 5. He recently had an operation and his legs are in casts. When these are removed, he will wear braces to support his mobility and then have a second and final surgery. The doctors are optimistic that he has a good chance of walking. The family has a pending resettlement application at UNHCR. The family hopes to have new future with their two kids, Eflin and Jihan, who is only 2, in Europe.


Children with special needs, especially those with physical or psychological needs often have trouble accessing the right services. Refugee children are still unable to access public rehabilitation services although a healthy life is every child’s right.


Suad (44) “I saw that the officials at the population office issued a different ID to my child, but didn’t realize it was a mistake. I thought they gave him citizenship because he was born here.”

Suad and his wife Ala came to Turkey in 2015, fleeing the conflict in Saladin region of Iraq. They first went to Syria, and then passed on to Turkey. They came to Mersin, to be with their relatives. They received international protection status. 18 months ago, their third child was born. Suad went to register their newborn but the officers missed that the family was Iraqi, and not Syrian – so the child received a temporary protection ID. It was only the child got sick and had to be taken to the migrant health service that the error was noticed. When the family applied to the offices of Migration Management, but the legal situation was more than complicated. Meanwhile, the family was issued a bill at the hospital since the child had no valid status. Within this bureaucratic maze, Support to Life stepped in, relevant authorities were contacted, the mistake was corrected and the hospital bill was cancelled.


3,6 million of 4 million refugees in Turkey are of Syrian origin, while the 400 thousand are from other countries, and are registered under international protection. For refugees initiating timely, complete and correct registration process is crucial. Otherwise, they are unable to access their basic needs and rights apart from emergency health services.