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Keeping hope alive – A Syrian grandmother’s tale from Turkey

Mona* does not want people to see her face. “I am just an old woman. Take a photo of my grandchildren – they are my life.” © DRC/Rowena McNaughton

From October 2014 to May 2015, the Danish Refugee Council, with support from the European Commission, distributed vital cash-assistance and emergency household items to over 5 000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees seeking refuge in Kilis, in south-east Turkey. The population in the town doubled with the influx of Syrian refugees over the past three years. Danish Refugee Council’s Rowena McNaughton visited Kilis and some of the families who have benefitted from the assistance programme.

Rowena McNaughton, Regional Communication Officer,

Rowena McNaughton, Regional Communication Officer, DRC @DRC_dk@rowmcnaughton

Tears form when Mona*, 60, thinks about the rural Syrian village in which she had spent her entire life. She has not seen nor heard from her eldest son since April 2014 when he disappeared from their village in Tal Maleed, Aleppo. His three children – aged three, four and five – are now her responsibility. The eldest has a disability and is unable to walk.  So too is Mona’s 67-year-old husband. He is blind and now both mentally and physically disabled after suffering a massive heart attack and stroke during a night of heavy bombardment in Syria.

Aside from the clothes she wore the night she made the frightening crossing into Turkey, she does not have a single possession left from her life in Syria. She cannot speak the same language as people living around her in her new country of refuge.

"Each day has been a battle for survival since war broke out in Syria" – Mona.

Getting her family to safety in Turkey and trying to find refuge and a means to live is now her only focus. She no longer allows herself to dream about being able to return home to Syria.

Mona and her family were living in a public park and reliant on food handouts when the Danish Refugee Council found them last year. Having used all her meagre savings to pay someone to drive her to the Turkish border so her husband could lie in the back of the car and her grandchildren would not have to make a journey that so many must do on foot, Mona did not have a cent when she finally arrived in Turkey.

A wheelchair bought by the Danish Refugee Council has given Khalil* mobility after four years being bound to a bed. © DRC/Rowena McNaughton

Through the 'special needs fund' of the Danish Refugee Council supported by the European Commission, Mona has been given support to pay for medical treatment for her grandchildren and husband, blankets and basic home items, hygiene kits. She has also been helped to find somewhere to live. But it is still a struggle for her to pay the monthly rental of US150 dollars.

The fund seeks to help the most vulnerable refugees. It specifically targets people with disabilities, vulnerable women and children, the elderly, and large families hosting other Syrian families. Once families have been assisted, follow-up home visits are an important part of the programme.

Mona’s second son joined the family from Syria earlier this year. He collects rubbish on the street and recycles it, allowing the family to pay their rent.

Thanks to the support, Mona was able to buy her husband a wheelchair, and after four years being bound to a bed, he is now mobile. “You can lose hope when you are alone. The Danish Refugee Council has kept that in me”, she said.

*Names changed to protect identity.

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