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Healthcare for Syrian Refugees in Rural Turkey

3-year-old-Nagam
3-year-old Nagam (right) and her family fled the violence of their homeland of Syria almost a year ago. She now lives in the outskirts of Izmir, the third biggest city in Turkey. Photo: EU/ECHO/Miray Akdag-Uluc

Turkey hosts some 3 million refugees, the majority of whom are from Syria. The vast majority of the refugees and un-documented migrants do not live in camps but in villages and cities throughout Turkey. Officially they have access to Turkish health facilities and education, but many refugees are living in impoverished conditions. The European Union has been addressing the many needs of refugees in Turkey through a number of humanitarian aid projects. Médecins du Monde has been running a number of primary health care centres with the help of local non-government organisations (NGOs).

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Miray Akdag-Uluc, Communications Officer, EU Humanitarian Aid @Makdaguluc 

Izmir is the third biggest city in Turkey and the capital of Aegean region, an area known for its fertile lands, and a city famous for its sea, sun, and popular holiday resorts. However, in recent years this booming city has also become host to almost 100 000, primarily Syrian, refugees.

Meet 3-year-old Nagam. Her name means 'melody' in Arabic but this young Syrian child has not had much music and happiness in her young life.

Nagam’s family left the Syrian city of Aleppo almost a year ago, fleeing the war in their homeland. After crossing the border into Turkey they lived in various towns before settling in a field on the outskirts of Izmir. They have joined almost 20 other families which have created a small community amongst large vegetable fields.

Like thousands of other Syrian refugees, Nagam’s family have found work as seasonal agricultural labourers, earning approximately 80 euros a month.

Their living conditions are difficult. They only have one water source, and their tents provide little shelter against the cold wind which announces the onset of winter. Hygiene is the biggest problem, and skin diseases are very common in this small community.

Mobile health teams reach refugees in rural areas 

To address the health needs of these impoverished informal rural settlements, Médecins du Monde (MdM) has started sending out mobile health teams from Izmir. They are based in a primary health centre in downtown Izmir which was established by MdM in collaboration with the Turkish authorities and local NGOs, and with funds provided by the European Union. Now mobile teams are fanning out to the rural areas around Izmir assisting Syrian refugees who cannot gain access to health facilities, either because they are too far away or because they have no funds.

The services provided by MdM’s partner “Doctors Worldwide Turkey” (DWWT) are for free and the doctors can also refer more serious cases to local clinics. Many refugees are often unaware of the services available to them and have difficulties conversing in Turkish. The DWWT doctors are Syrians themselves so they understand the needs of their patients such as Nagam and her family.

As Nagam prepares to have her vaccinations, her grandmother assures her that the doctors will not cause any pain. After the procedure and conscious of the presence of photographer, Nagam runs back to her tent to put on different clothes because she wants to pose for the camera. She is still barefoot and her little hands are cold, but as Nagam poses for the camera, her face lights up and her smile is as beautiful as a melody.