ANKARA: As each country grapples with the spread of coronavirus, the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey — whose lives have been in turmoil for the past nine years — is demanding attention.
Held in precarious conditions, their numbers have reached almost 4 million.
Thousands of the refugees have spent recent weeks taking dangerous journeys along the Turkish-Greek border. There are camps hosting about 10,000 to 15,000 refugees on the border where social distancing rules cannot be applied. The concentration of the population and the lack of access to water has increase the risk of contagion.
Prof. Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a parliamentarian from the pro-Kurdish HDP, recently warned that “the refugees are taking shelter on the Evros River (between Turkey and Greece). There is no reported case there, but if it happens, it will quickly spread out the area.”
Syrian refugees now need effective and easily accessible protection in Turkey against this deadly virus more than ever.
If Syrian refugees have symptoms, they have to call the Turkish Ministry of Health’s hotline and ask for an Arabic translator after waiting in the lengthy queue.
The ministry recently published a guide in Arabic on its website for personal measures to take and steps that might break the chain of transmission.
Omar Kadkoy, a migration policy analyst at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said it is important to raise awareness among asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey about the necessary precautions against coronavirus by sharing information in multiple languages.
“The second important step is using a medium with maximum exposure.
Syrians, similar to all other asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey, rely greatly on social media to obtain information. All parties involved in the campaign must take to Facebook and Twitter to reach as many as possible,” he told Arab News.
For Kadkoy, reducing vulnerability requires equal access to public health services.
“There are undocumented asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey whose lack of ID may deny them access to tests and treatment. This is not the time to play it by the book. Fighting coronavirus is a collective action irrelevant to the legal status of anyone,” he said.
UNICEF recently distributed hygiene and sanitation kits to the refugees along the border to raise awareness.
Deniz Senol Sert, a migration expert from Ozyegin University in Istanbul, draws attention to the measures that are needed in case refugees along the border are returned to Turkey given that there has been no social distancing and that some have managed to cross the border. “The question remains: Are these people in need of a 14-day quarantine period?” she told Arab News.
Ankara and Brussels have been holding talks over the recent decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to open Turkey’s border to migrants travelling to Europe, as deteriorating conditions along the border led some EU countries like Germany to suggest rehousing up to 1,500 unaccompanied child refugees to European countries.
Turkey opened a field hospital along the Greek border to track the health indicators of the refugees, but there are no reported coronavirus cases so far.
Refugee activists have pointed out the risk of Iranian refugees who cross the Turkish border illegally from the mountains in eastern provinces, which increases the risk of cross-border contagion.