Dreams and despair in Turkey’s ‘little Syria’

Dreams and despair in Turkey’s ‘little Syria’image

19 Mar 2015

Since the Syrian civil war erupted four years ago, tens of thousands of refugees have poured into the southern Turkish port town of Mersin, fearing they may never return home and yearning for a better life. Between 200,000-350,000 Syrian refugees are now estimated to live in the workaday Mediterranean city, swelling its population of around one million by about a quarter. Some get on with starting over again, but for a smaller number the city serves as a hub for the dangerous and illicit boat journey across the Mediterranean to Europe and a shot at a new life. “I tried for a long time to get to the US, France and Italy but they refused me a visa. As Turkey does not require one, I came here,” said a 24-year-old Syrian professional health worker who wanted to remain anonymous. Sitting in a cafe, puffing on a nargile (water pipe) and sipping a coffee, he explained in perfect English that he had left Damascus with all he had only three months ago. Asked if he was considering making the trip across the sea that killed thousands of migrants last year, he replied: “It is too risky. I prefer to live in Turkey but I also fear that I am going to die here.” He and the others in Mersin make up a large proportion of the 1.7 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey since the war broke out in March 2011. It is an unprecedented influx that, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, has made Turkey the world’s biggest refugee hosting country.