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Turkey: ‘what we can do, we do’

In 2009 JRS began work in Turkey, in agreement with a local non-governmental organization: the KADER-Chaldean Assyrian Humanitarian Organisation. Turkey is both a destination and major crossroads for refugees from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia who are hoping to reach Europe or awaiting resettlement. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
Sunday, February 17, 2013
(Ankara, Turkey) February 17, 2013 — Jesuit Refugee Service in Ankara owes a debt of gratitude to 20 expat volunteers who on a regular basis volunteer their time and donate items to the JRS project. In the last month alone, JRS received almost 200 brand new blankets, 30 brand new jackets and 50 used jackets. The response to a call for two wheelchairs was answered within two hours.

Currently two volunteers are preparing a special English language program for the needs of refugees who will shortly be resettled. The program is essential to meet the needs of the refugees in first their first days upon arrival to their new homes. We also see more and more the involvement of amazing Turkish people who help quietly but very considerable.

Recently two volunteers shared their reflections with us. The second is below, and the first can be read by clicking here.

It’s 10 a.m. Thursday morning. As I drive towards the gate it begins to slowly slide open along its rail. It’s been snowing and is still well below freezing, but to the left of the gate, sitting with backs to the walls, are people hidden under the blankets. They have been there for hours. 

It’s distribution day. At 10:30 the office opens and in they come, poor, bedraggled half starved, half frozen specimens of humanity seeking such aid as we have to offer. Some speak Arabic, some Persian, and there are other languages too. 

They can now wait inside, but the waiting continues.

Then one by one they are called in, first a couple; then a family of seven; then a family of six; and so it goes on. First, an interview in their native language. What do they need? How can we help? Then into another room as the items they have requested are assembled. Pasta and rice, towels and blankets, clothes and shoes, and maybe toys for the children.  

As the day wears on we begin to run short. "A coat, a warm coat, I need a coat, it’s so cold!" says an elderly lady. One of our refugee helpers translates — she has little formal education but moves effortlessly between Persian, Arabic, Turkish and English. "The previous family had the last one" we tell her, "Come another week." Outside the snow has turned to rain. It is little comfort.

This is Ankara, Turkey in 2013. We are inside a Catholic Church and it is organized by the Jesuits but we are Anglican, Catholic, and Mormon, and we are also British, American, Polish French, Belgian, Lebanese, and Spanish. 

The refugees come from Iran, Iraq, Syria and beyond, and have left their homes with quite literally what they stand up in. One young couple has a baby a few weeks old. The mother is a university educated civil engineer with perfect English. Another, an Iraqi man with a young family, has no right hand. “The war,” he says with a shrug. What we can offer is little enough, but they all leave with something.

This is the other side of the immigrant issue, of people who have been to hell and back – a hell created by others. But this is also the church in action, united in common cause and standing side by side and helping others without distinction of nationality or religion. Against the vast tide of refugees flowing through this country we can do little, but we can do something; and what we can do, we do.

By Fr. John Higgins, an Anglican priest from Great Britain


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