Two local MPs have seen for themselves the enormous scale of humanitarian efforts to support 2.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey in the last four years.
Last week North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheik, the MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, travelled to refugee camps close to the country’s border with war-town Syria.
The Turkish Government expects the number of refugees in their country to double as the conflict continues to escalate.
The visit took place in the same week that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an end to the war in Syria and reminded European leaders that there are ten times as many refugees from this crisis seeking shelter in Turkey as there are in the entire EU.
During their visit, the SNP MPs travelled to Gaziantep and Nizip to visit a refugee camp and hear first-hand the stories of those affected by the Syrian conflict.
They also met with the United Nations, Non-Governmental Organisations and local officials to develop a personal understanding of the crisis and discuss how Scotland and the UK can better support the efforts of the Turkish Government and the international community to accommodate and support this massive and still growing number of dispossessed people.
Stephen - whose office in Cupar was recently used as a collection point for donations for a refugee appeal - said: “People across Fife have been overwhelming in their response to the crisis in their donations and actions to help those affected. We have seen a humanitarian response from the people of Fife to a humanitarian crisis.
“I wanted to hear first hand about the crisis that has been unfolding and put a human face on the numbers and statistics that we hear.
“The UK has to do more to meet the challenges posed by the worst refugee crisis since the war. We rightly debate the issues surrounding the camp at Calais that holds 3000.
However according to the UNHCR here, 5000 people crossed the border from Syria to Turkey in a single hour following ISIL’s assault on the town of Kobane and 200,000 in total in a two week period. That gives us some perspective as to the scale of the challenge faced.”
He added: “We were grateful to meet with the Deputy Governor of Gaziantep Province, who was frustrated at the fact that although many delegations from across Europe have passed though this area, there is no evidence of a significant change in policy to better support these refugees or end the conflict.
“The magnitude of this issue is staggering, but the tragic stories we heard first hand from these brave men and women have also made a huge impact on us both.
“It is important to discuss the numbers but we must remember too the human stories behind these figures that underscore the devastating impact on families forced to flee their homes.”
Speaking following her return from Gaziantep, Tasmina said:“I wanted to come here myself to hear the stories of the Syrian men women and children, who have been caught up in the eye of this conflict, so that we can help ensure that the voices of these fragile people are heard in the ongoing debate on their country’s future.
“In the camp at Nizip, I heard heart-breaking stories of families uprooted by violence, who want nothing more than to return, but whose homes have either been reduced to rubble by air strikes ordered by President Assad, or by Da’esh attacks.
“These people are desperate for peace and nothing more than the opportunity to return to rebuild their lives in Syria. The Turkish Government are undertaking a massive effort to take care of the basic needs of their “guests”, which is how they are referred to there, but this should only be a temporary measure for the majority of the refugees. We need to work towards building a long term solution to this issue, rather than simply a short term military campaign.”
Stephen went on to explain the Nizip Refugee camp stands on the banks of the Euphrates River, and holds around 5000 refugees.
“Over half of those in the camp are children. It’s one of 25 refugee camps in the country, which hold around ten percent of Turkey’s refugees.
“Nizip is one of six camps which use converted shipping containers to house each family, which comprise of around five to six people each. The containers are 21sq metres (7m x 3m) in size. The camp has a market, library, a laundry and school facilities from nursery through to secondary school.
“Each person in the camp receives 85TL per month to buy food and groceries. The 50,000 refugees who live in the local community receive social aid and healthcare.”
Stephen and Tasmina were welcomed into the ‘home’ - a converted shipping container - of Mohammed Tomuk and Salwa Yusuf came to the camp from Northern Syria.
Mohammed was a pilot in the Syrian Air Force, and fled the country with his family when he was asked to take part in bombing raids on civilian targets within his own country.
His wife, who was a writer, said her life stopped five years ago; “We are not numbers. We are not animals. We want to be human beings, not numbers on a page.
“I am not a woman after this. I have no dreams. I just want to go home, but Da’esh are occupying my home now.”
“My life stopped five years ago. I am like any mother, I want my children to have an education. I want my son to finish his studies. I want a normal life.”
“I am a writer. But I haven’t words anymore.”
The MPs also met Basil from Damascus. After being stopped by traffic police near his home, Basil spent two years in prison, being tortured by Assad’s security services. He is now unable to walk and is confined to a wheelchair.
Although he was released from jail, he has no passport or identity documents. He wants to seek asylum in the EU so that he can receive the medical treatment he requires.
The Nizip camp is now also home to Zoya who was a student of English Literature at University in Syria,
She hasn’t been able to resume her studies in Turkey due to a lack of paperwork and documentation and is now is using her time at the camp to teach art classes to other refugees.
Nafa al Hasan is from Idlib. Her house was flattened by Assad forces, in an attack which killed her mother, father, brother and husband. She wants to return to Syria, but has no home to return to.