18th Mar 2018

'I am alive but dead inside'

  • Amina Hamadi (r) and her husband are among the 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Amina Hamadi holds up her mobile phone. On it is a grainy photo of three small children.

It's the only remaining image she has of her grandchildren, all killed in a rocket attack in Azaz, a city in northwestern Syria. The youngest was three.

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  • Amina's mobile. The image of her three grandchildren is the only remaining photo she has of them. All were killed. (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

"We were sitting under the trees in the garden," she told EUobserver earlier this month. The children were playing with marbles. Her son was doing gardening work.

"We didn't hear anything."

The 65-year old now lives with her ageing husband Hamdo in an impoverished neighborhood of Gaziantep, a large town on the Turkish side of the border with Syria.

Asked to recall the happier memories before the war, she refuses.

"I don't want to go back there, to those days," she says.

Amina and Hamdo have lost six children and grandchildren.

Hamdo tries to keep his composure as he recalls the blast that destroyed their lives.

"I am alive but dead inside," he says. He suspects the missile strike was from the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Both are now among the 2.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey and are part of the largest exodus of people fleeing conflict since the World War II.

The Turkish Red Crescent estimates another 60,000 people from Azaz will try to cross the border should militants from the Islamic State advance into the city.

For those stuck on the Syrian side of the border, life is increasingly desperate.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, says Turkish military shot dead at least eight Syrians, including four children over the weekend.

The shootings took place at the Syrian town of Jisr al-Shugour as they attempted to cross into Turkey, says the NGO.

Jisr al-Shugour is under jihadist control. Turkey denies it shot the Syrians.

But the move and documented push backs by Turkish authorities of Syrians into Syria points to a larger EU-led policy of keeping people from fleeing to Europe in large numbers.

65 million displaced globally, a new record

Syria, along with Afghanistan and Somalia, together produce more than half of the world's refugees, according to an UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in a report on Monday (20 June).

The same report notes the global forced displacement hit record numbers last year.

Some 65.3 million people were forced to flee as a result of violence and persecution, compared to compared to 59.5 million in 2014.

"If these 65.3 million persons were a nation, they would make up the 21st largest in the world," notes the report.

There are now over 21 million refugees and over half are children.

Turkey hosts the most refugees, followed by Pakistan and Lebanon.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says "more people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too".

Member states refuse to relocate

In Europe, their reception has broadly been met with hardship.

Once they are arrive in Italy and Greece, those most likely to receive asylum like Syrians are supposed to be relocated to other EU states.

But the policy has largely failed with many now stuck in Greece, due in part, to the Western Balkan border shut down and an EU migrant swap deal with Turkey.

Out of the 160,000 to be distributed over a two-year period, only 2,406 people have been relocated since last year.

"The fact that that flow has stopped does not mean the problem of displacement has ended. It may have ended for some countries that don't have to deal with it anymore, for now," Grandi said at a news conference.

The EU commission, for its part, says it will not ignore the global refugee crisis.

It notes more than € 10 billion of the EU budget for the years 2015 and 2016 have been allocated to address the refugee crisis within the EU and elsewhere.

"The EU has not and will not turn a blind eye to this crisis and we will continue to share in the global efforts to address it," said Frans Timmermans, EU commission vice-president, in a statement.

Turkey struggling to cope with refugees

Children out of school and vulnerable to radicalisation, asylum claimants pushed back from Greece, and refugees forbidden from entering from Syria - a new report paints a bleak picture of the situation in Turkey.

Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant

Niger has temporarily stopped all evacuations from Libya detention centres under an EU funded programme because so few are being resettled to Europe. Many of those that have been evacuated are pregnant, with some asking for HIV testing.

EU seeks another €3bn Turkey migrant deal

Money should flow despite concerns about the Turkish regime, the Commission said. EU should "pressure" African states to take back unwanted migrants, it added.

EU billions had 'limited' effect in Turkey, audit finds

The EU got "limited" effect for the €9bn it spent trying to modernise Turkey in recent years, auditors have said. Turkey has been "backsliding" on reforms since 2013 due to "lack of political will", the European Court of Auditors found.

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