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TURKEY: Salesian Missionaries Aid Close to 400 Syrian Refugees in Turkey

(MissionNewswire) Sharing a 500-mile-long border with Syria, Southeastern Turkey has more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees, as reported by the United Nations. Salesian missionaries are providing services at three sites within Syria while also providing for Syrian refugees in Turkey. While many Syrian refugees stay in towns on the Turkey-Syrian border, many find their way to big cities like Istanbul where Salesian missionaries operate a program that currently serves close to 400 Syrian refugees.

At the Don Bosco Center in Istanbul, Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz leads special programs for refugee children and youth from Syria as well as for a growing number of families fleeing ISIS persecution in Iraq. Because most refugees do not speak the local language it is difficult for children to attend school and adults to find work.

At the Center, Salesian missionaries provide a school for more than 350 refugee children where they learn English language skills as well as other traditional school subjects such as mathematics, geography and music. Students have access to sports and dance programs intended to help them connect with their peers and find enjoyment and comfort in their new surroundings. In addition, the program provides counseling both for youth and their families to help them overcome the challenges and traumas they have faced.

“Salesian missionary work in Istanbul serves a critical purpose providing refugees links to service providers and comprehensive assistance as they transition, for an unknown period of time, into local society,” says Neill Holland, program officer at the Salesian Missions Office for International Programs. “Without a doubt, the biggest Salesian success is the safe space created for youth who have experienced trauma in their home countries. At the Don Bosco School and community center, refugee youth take part in recreation activities with Turkish youth which allows them to move beyond their hardships while giving them a chance to forget their worries and be children once again.”

Technical skills training is a critical component of Salesian work in Istanbul. Many refugees leave the country’s border towns and refugee camps and make their way to Istanbul hoping to find employment and a more stable life. If they fail to find work, refugees are often left in dire circumstances. The Don Bosco Center’s technical skills training program is a critical safety net for those in need.

The skills training program trains refugee families in local trades and technical skills and assists them in finding stable employment in their new host country. As a result of evacuation and host country labor laws as well as a lack of established social and professional networks, many refugees urgently rely on the training program to locate long-term employment. In addition to skills training, Salesian missionaries provide needy refugees with emergency relief in the form of shelter, safety and medical assistance.

“Refugees, like those fleeing Syria and other areas, are particularly vulnerable to economic insecurity, subject to long-term unemployment and high costs for basic necessities like shelter and food,” adds Holland. “Refugees seeking local employment out of the need to support dependent family members are significantly at risk of exploitation and compromising situations.”

More than 200,000 people have been killed and millions more have fled their homes in search of safety since the outbreak of civil war in Syria in March 2011, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The conflict has taken its toll on young Syrians with U.N records indicating 2,165 recorded deaths of children under nine years old and 6,638 deaths of children aged 10 to 18 years. With often poor reporting, the numbers are suspected to be much higher.

Close to 6.5 million people are internally displaced within Syria. More than 2.5 million have fled to the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and just under 100,000 have declared asylum in Europe. Others have taken refuge in Northern Africa. Refugee camps in these bordering countries are overflowing with families in need of basic supplies, adequate shelter and safety as well as technical skills training so they can begin to earn a living in their new host countries.



PBS – Syrian Refugees in Turkey

UNHCR – Syria Refugees

Wall Street Journal – U.N. Says Syria Deaths Near 200,000