Documentary Photography

Meeting the Syrian Refugees

About 30.000 Syrian refugees are believed to have made their way across the Turkish border into the city of Kilis. Most of them have arrived within the last four months. Basic necessities such as shoes and coats are in demand as winter approaches and already now the temperature reaches zero.

After a 19 hours bus ride I finally reach Kilis. It’s 12am and the sun is shining. It’s warm in that special way where you can tell that winter’s coming. With 90.000 inhabitants this is considered a small town. Through history Kilis has belonged to the Ottoman district of Aleppo. The newly established Republic of Turkey led by famed first president Atatürk took over the city after World War I.  The Syrian border is only five kilometers from the city center and an hours drive after that lies Aleppo where some of the fiercest battles between government forces and the rebels are taking place as I write this.

My contact Hamza, that works for IHH (the Turkish NGO that VIOMIS cooperates with) picks me up at the station. We drive to the small headquarter on the outskirts of town and while I’m served kebab and sweet Turkish tea the daily activities start to increase.

Outside in the small courtyard, white plastic bags carrying the IHH logo are being filled with potatoes and unions. Large boxes of plastic wrapped foam mattresses as well as blankets and donated clothing are being loaded on to a small truck. One of the many daily loads of emergency relief is on its way to the many Syrian refugees that live scattered across town.

I’m introduced to Omar and Mahmoud that are both Syrian refugees themselves and now works for IHH, helping others in the same situation. These two are in charge of today’s distribution, so I leave my bags behind, grab my camera and jump in the car with them.

Every day the relief is distributed in a new area of the town. To find the many Syrian families they have to work closely with the areas Mokhtar. A Mokhtar is the head of an area within the city. There’s about 30 Mokhtars in Kilis, and it’s their responsibility too keep track of people and resolve disputes within their designated area.

On our way through the city we share stories about ourselves to break the ice. Omar finds it hard to believe that I am neither Christian nor Muslim and while his smiling eyes starts to glow he tells me of the many glories of Islam.

“Insha’Allah (god willing) Anders, maybe when you see the work we do here you will also become Muslim, Insha’Allah” he says.

Soon we come across the first Syrian refugees and with much heartache I see that they lack even the most basic remedies. Clothing, shoes and food are highly in demand. It’s cold here in Kilis, down to three Celsius, and children as adults are in sandals. It’s hard to be here, eye to eye with people in such distress. Suddenly reality becomes real and far removed from television images and newspaper articles. They are right here, these people that had to leave everything behind and are now facing a harsh winter and an uncertain future.

Omar piles the many bags of food onto the truck

Omar piles the many bags of food onto the truck

Both Omar and Mahmoud have only been in Kilis for four months so it can be difficult for them to find their way.

Both Omar and Mahmoud have only been in Kilis for four months so it can be difficult for them to find their way.

There's time for a quick prayer between distribution.

There’s time for a quick prayer between distribution.

The local Mokhtar shows the way to the many Syrian families.

The local Mokhtar shows the way to the many Syrian families.

As Turkish and Arabic are two very different languages, communication often slows down the relief effort.

As Turkish and Arabic are two very different languages, communication often slows down the relief effort.

Omar notes down what relief is handed out as well as the amount.

Omar notes down what relief is handed out as well as the amount.

The Mokhtar registers the Syrian refugees and their addresses.

The Mokhtar registers the Syrian refugees and their addresses.

Emergency relief is distributed to Syrian refugees in the Turkis

A Syrian woman tries on a pair of shoes as there are only two sizes not many can use them.

A Syrian woman tries on a pair of shoes as there are only two sizes not many can use them.

A young Syrian boy carries a blanket donated by IHH.

A young Syrian boy carries a blanket donated by IHH.

The youngest of the three children got a new pair of shoes.

The youngest of the three children got a new pair of shoes.

Mother and child oversees the distribution.

Mother and child oversees the distribution.

Two children looks on as the emergency relief is distributed.

Two children looks on as the emergency relief is distributed.

Emergency relief is distributed to Syrian refugees in the Turkis

A young Syrian girl carries blankets and clothing in to their residence.

A young Syrian girl carries blankets and clothing in to their residence.

Emergency relief is distributed to Syrian refugees in the Turkis

Often impoverished Turks show up hoping for a handout as poverty is widespread in the area.

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