Translating Humanitarian Emergency into Medical Aid in Syria

Claire Glasscoe


Refugee Camps

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world (3.2 million). The vast majority are Syrian (3 million) and 10% (260,000) of these are registered in 26 refugee camps; the other 90% are living independently inside Turkey. These 26 camps are located in the south along the Syrian border and termed Temporary Protection Centres (TPC) managed by the Disaster and Emergency Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) within the Disaster Temporary Management System (AFKEN). They are funded by Turkey and the EU to provide rapid assistance in six priority areas: (1) humanitarian, (2) migration management, (3) education, (4) health, (5) municipal infrastructure and (6) socio-economic support. Refugees living in these protection centres arrive with very little except maybe an injury for which they need specialist healthcare. Those who travelled together are usually placed together but the priority is to provide shelter, medical care and education not to attend to the finer social aspects of keeping families or communities together. So these refugees are grateful for the protection despite feeling disconnected from their neighbours and in many cases profoundly homesick. Mohamed Al Nuaime is the General Manager for the Association for Syrian Refugees – the voice of Syrian refugees in Turkey. He and his team have been collating information about the protection centres and liaising with Turkish authorities to address any issues arising. These centres range in their quality of provision and here he laments the conditions faced by refugees in some of the camps while applauding others as an example they should all strive towards.

Safe Zones

Camps for displaced people inside Syria are mainly located all along its northern border concentrated around Aleppo and Idleb. This includes Al Kammouna IDP camp, which is a part of the Sarmada cluster that was bombed on 05/05/16 by the Assad regime killing at least 30 people; a tragedy that may have been prevented if this border region had been established as a 'safe zone' as advocated by Turkey's President Erdoğan. Plans have now been put in operation to build permanent homes along the Syrian side of the border with Turkey that are safer by virtue of their location. But this is only the edge of the conflict - the international community, sickened by reports of unremitting bombardment of civilian areas all over Syria propose 'no fly zones' and 'no bombing zones'.
Here I debate the relative merits of different models for protecting civilians with military advisors and policy makes.


The question of asylum by definition is raised when someone who can prove persecution or threat to life and therefore a 'refugee' has made a request to stay in another country and call that home. But Syrians are often ambivalent about permanently leaving Syria and much of what is being offered is sanctuary from the storm happening in their homeland for as long as is needed. This humanitarian charity for one's 'cousins' or one's fellow human beings is not reintegration. That would mean they had found a new home with the same privileges and responsibilities afforded to a citizen of the host nation not just a poor visiting relation fallen on hard times. In reality at Syrians have residency as refugees not citizenship, which means those qualified as doctors, paramedics or allied health professionals cannot work within a Turkish health service or indeed travel to another province within Turkey without the requisite permit. Turkey's self-evident generosity for the plight of its neighbours in Syria means that it provides refuge to many of its fleeing population but on a temporary basis. However, as the war continues unabated and it becomes clear that many Syrians will not be returning home anytime, soon the conversations have moved towards the issue of permanence and the consideration that Syrians might be viewed as an asset rather than a burden to Turkish society. This idea though is seen by some as controversial. Here I talk with Syrians about the pros and cons of requesting asylum as citizens of Turkey or elsewhere in the region and beyond.