Escaping Conflict, Struggling to Survive

After leaving behind everything in Syria, Syrian refugees tell stories of their fight for survival in Turkey.

More than 4 million refugees have fled their countries and settled in Turkey, 3.6 million of them are Syrians. Today, hundreds of thousands are struggling to find stable sources of income, a challenge that was only exacerbated since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Finding a job here is normally not easy, but for those with disabilities, medical conditions or older refugees, finding jobs can be especially difficult. Mohammed, Khadija and Fatima are just a few of the millions of both refugees and vulnerable host community members who continue to struggle to support themselves and their families.

Finding a source of income at an older age

While fleeing conflict and moving to a new country is daunting for anyone, it is particularly challenging for older refugees.

“We left the camp and went to live with our son in Hatay, but he was only 19 and could barely cover his own needs,” says Mohammed, a Syrian refugee living in Turkey.

While Mohammed tried to find jobs to help his son, his heart condition and his age stood in the way.

“Most of the jobs available for Syrian refugees in Hatay are daily labour work, and I could not handle those,” he adds.

After two heart surgeries, Mohammed couldn’t do physically demanding jobs.


Mohammed then learnt he could receive financial aid as a disabled refugee who cannot work. But to be able to receive aid, he had to obtain a hospital report confirming his disability, which he simply could not afford.

“We were barely able to cover our rent. I could not pay 200 TL (Turkish Lira) for a report,” he says.

With funding from European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), DRC's legal team helped Mohammed obtain the report. They paid the fees, drove him to his appointments and supported him until he started receiving aid. The legal services provided by DRC helps hundreds of refugees access their rights and the services they need.

“While aid is barely enough, at least it covers the rent and we won’t be thrown out of our house,” says Mohammed.

While the hardships of living as refugees in Turkey have only been exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mohammed is thankful for the opportunities he has been given in Turkey.

“We almost died in our own country. While living here is hard, I am just thankful to be alive,” he adds with a smile.

Escaping conflict-ridden Syria, but not a chronic illness

When fighting in Aleppo intensified, Fatima and her family were left with no choice but to flee their country to find safety elsewhere.

“We were scared all the time. We could not access the healthcare my son and I needed,” Fatima says.

Fatima and her family first arrived in Adana, a city in the southern part of Turkey, in 2015 and have been residing here ever since. At first, they struggled to afford rent, food, and her medication.

“None of my children were working and we struggled to make ends meet,” she says.

For the past 20 years, Fatima has been struggling with enterocutaneous fistula (ECF) syndrome and even though she has had an operation, she needs to continue taking her medication. Her eldest son also suffers from the same syndrome.

After five years of rebuilding a life in Adana, their family has grown, and Fatima now lives in a house with her family of ten.

“Two of my sons got married and had kids,” she says as she kisses one of her grandchildren.

The family survives on the salaries of her two sons. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were able to cover the family’s needs, but now stable work opportunities are scarce.


“Everyone is struggling, our struggles have tripled with four toddlers to care for along with my son’s medication and mine,” she says.

With funding from European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) and in partnership with DRC, Support to Life (STL) was able to deliver much needed aid to Fatima and her family.

“We received packages, including food items and diapers, to take care of the children and money to cover our basic needs and buy some of my medication,” she says.

“This help was our only lifeline in this time of need.”

Now, with Turkey returning to a new normal, her two sons are starting to work again.

“While they still cannot find work opportunities like they used to, we are thankful that they can at least cover the rent and food for the children,” says Fatima.

She dreams of a time when the situation in Syria improves, and she will be able to return to her home with her family of ten and rebuild their torn country.

“Being a refugee is hard. Being a disabled refugee is a whole other thing!”

“Life in Syria was not great, and I could not access the healthcare I needed. The conflict only made things worse,” says Khadija.

She fled to Turkey with her sister and mother in 2011.

Wheelchair-bound Khadija arrived at a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border, where she underwent an operation to help relieve her pain.

“It was futile; I am still in pain and need my sister’s help in virtually everything,” she says.

After seven years, the camp closed and Khadija left together with her mother and sister.

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“I was not sure whether to be happy or sad. I mean, none of us could work. We were worried about rent, electricity and water,” says Khadija.

The family of three moved to Şanlıurfa in Turkey where they found a small house to live in. Disabled Syrian refugees can apply for disability benefits, but they have to get a hospital report confirming their disability.

“The report cost 200 TL (Turkish Lira). That may not be a lot to many people, but for three women with no income, it was impossible,” she adds.

With funding from European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), DRC's legal team helped Khadija get the report.

“They paid for everything. They also assigned a car to take me to my appointments,” she adds.

DRC’s legal services help hundreds of refugees receive the aid they deserve and access their rights.

Today, Khadija receives a small amount of financial aid under the EU’s Emergency Social Safety Net that helps 1.8 million vulnerable refugees buy what they need most. This support helps Khadija cover her basic needs.

“Being a refugee is hard. Being a refugee in my state, that is a nightmare. I simply cannot afford most of the necessities a woman like me needs,” she says.

Khadija dreams of a time when her country will be safe again and she can return home. 

Read more about the situation in Syria here