Turkey’s Other Refugees

28 Aug., 2012, Foreign Policy

With his dazzling blue eyes and angelic smile, 10-month-old Besir lights up any room he’s in. But the only rooms he’s ever seen are the insides of tents and cargo containers. “He’s never lived inside a house,” says his mother, Hasret, 21, bouncing him on her knee.

The steel container we’re sitting in on this baking August day is one in a sea of 1,120, lined up in rows over a vast gravel field in southeastern Turkey. An average of six people live in each container. Water and electricity are sporadically available, and food is scarce. Most families know they have lost their houses and belongings forever. Most children don’t have any toys, or even a change of clothing. Few people know how or when they will be able to move out of the camp.

In the mind-numbing heat of the container city, mingled with pleas for aid and information, there issues a collective lament: “Our government has forsaken us.”

These people aren’t fleeing the violence in Syria, however. They are locals of Van province, and have been homeless for the past 10 months, since two massive earthquakes struck their city last autumn, killing 600 people and wounding 4,000 more. Currently, some 67,000 individuals live in Van’s 33 container cities.

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