I am in Nizip 2, a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey. Rows of pre-fabricated containers house 4,000 Syrian refugees who fled the destruction of civil war. Nearby is Nizip 1, where 10,000 refugees live in tents. Both are tucked into a small piece of land on the banks of the Euphrates River.
It smells like fresh rain; I can hear a muezzin’s calls to prayer. Groups of children look at me curiously, shuffling by and as I reach out my hand, the little fingers of a smiling, dusty girl find mine. Her hand is replaced by another little hand, then another. For the next ten minutes, dozens of little boys and girls, unkempt and smiling, come to me. "Marhaba (welcome)," they say.
This was my first week as Humanitarian Advisor to the U.S. Mission to Turkey, and I am struck all at once by the depth of the humanitarian crisis and honored to be welcomed so warmly by Turks and Syrians alike. There are 17 refugee camps in Turkey, soon to grow to 24. If I were to map the refugees' paths with pushpins and strings, all of Syria and half of Turkey would be an intricate web. Turkey has already welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees, who have settled from Hatay province, just across Syria's northern border, to Istanbul in the far northeast, the bridge to Europe.
Many of the most vulnerable have been sent to container camps like Nizip 2, as these dwellings provide solid protection from the elements. Some of the women's husbands are fighting in the Free Syrian Army. They return from war to visit their spouses and children; sometimes they have been injured in battle. The container homes were built by the Government of Turkey, setting a high standard as an exemplary humanitarian actor. Camps like Nizip provide schools, playgrounds, fields and recreational facilities for kids; vocational training rooms, computer and television rooms for youths. The Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) fabricates and distributes fire-resistant tents; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides kitchen burners and sets containing utensils. The World Food Program, through the TRC, provides electronic cards with money that refugees can use to purchase essential food at the camp market. UNICEF provides educational support. The United States is the largest funder of many of these international efforts.
My task is to monitor the humanitarian situation, identify protection needs, and coordinate international assistance programs. I visit refugees in camps and urban areas, and liaise with the U.S. government, international and non-governmental organizations, and Government of Turkey officials to coordinate assistance. Here on temporary assignment from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in the Department of State, I am one piece of a vast international effort that brings together the hospitality of the Turks, the generosity of UN member states, and the refugees themselves, who courageously face an uncertain future.
The children whose hands squeeze mine have no way of understanding the complex effort that supports them here, but I think they appreciate our presence. It is a sign that, despite what they have been through, they are not forgotten. I hope they are able to leave the camp, return to their homes, and become normal kids again. In the meantime, they will be taken care of here, thanks to unwavering support by the Government of Turkey and the international community.
About the Author: Heather Fabrikant serves as a Humanitarian Advisor at the U.S. Mission in Turkey.