27 Mar 2015
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: When Mojahid Akil left Syria, he didn’t have time to pack. But he arrived in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep with a valuable skill. He’s a computer programmer. Now his phone app helps Syrian refugees adjust to life in Turkey, where many of them don’t speak the language, where the rules and the laws are overwhelming. MOJAHID AKIL: We called it Help Me. If you click on Help Me, we give you a step-by-step. AMOS: Step-by-step help to find critical services – how to find a hospital, a school or get a cell phone. Help Me is one feature of the app and website called Gherbtna, which translates to mean exile, loneliness or a feeling of foreignness in Arabic. It’s exactly what refugees feel, so the site also includes information on the best place to get a meal that reminds them of home. AKIL: This is the application. AMOS: So if I want to find a restaurant that’s only Syrian, this is where I look? AKIL: Yes, it’s the main page now – news… AMOS: Yeah. AKIL: …And information. AMOS: So this is everything you need to know… AKIL: Yes. AMOS: …If you’ve just fled your country and you need to know… AKIL: Yes. AMOS: …What the rules are. AKIL: Yes, just click here. AMOS: More than 10,000 Syrians have clicked for answers to looming problems that come with an indefinite stay – how to register the birth of a child, the death of a grandparent when you’re so far from home. Is there a way to legally register a marriage? AKIL: (Speaking Arabic) One, two, three, four – (speaking Arabic). AMOS: This gives me all the steps – one, two, three, four – how do I register my marriage in Turkey. Akil started building his phone app a year ago, and it was a hit as soon as he introduced it earlier this year. The Turkish government provides information for the site, and users share what they know. As the war in Syria drags on into a fifth year, refugees are forced to adjust to a long, uncertain stay. Many have avoided any interactions with the Turkish system. There was the language barrier, of course, but something else held them back, says Tamam Barrodi, a businessman from Aleppo, also a refugee. He says Syrians are afraid of their own government and so instinctively distrust officials. TAMAM BARRODI: We are all the time afraid from the rules. We are all the time afraid from the police. If we are right or wrong, we are all the time afraid from that. Let’s teach them how to deal with this new situation in Turkey, in other countries. AMOS: Barrodi applauds the phone app, which helps Syrians adjust to a new culture. He heads a program that teaches business skills and civic education for refugees – high school graduates who may live in Turkey for years. BARRODI: Now they are coming to a democracy, so there is another system – how to do with the people, how to deal with the rules.