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Press Centre (12/2016)

Emergency cash assistance saves a family from collapse


After fleeing from Syria to Istanbul, Zahra has had to look after her brothers while both her mother and her sister Fatima worked. All four were able to start school this December.
ANKARA, 19 December 2016 - Aisha’s world was crumbling around her. Her landlord had told her she had to move out of her Istanbul apartment with her four young children. The 34-year-old Syrian refugee mother panicked. She had no friends or relatives to turn to. She gathered her few belongings and headed to the bus station. 

“I decided to go to Ankara,” she said, her face pale as tears tracked down her cheeks. “I heard there was a refugee camp there. Maybe someone would help me there.”

But just before boarding the bus, she called her case worker at the UNICEF supported Child and Family Support Centre (CFSC) and the outreach team immediately picked her up at the station and put the family, Fatima, 12, Zahra,11, Ahmad, 3, and Habib, 2, in a hotel, a temporary measure until the centre, managed by the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM), could find another home for her.

Aisha has been struggling since she and her family fled the war-torn city of Aleppo in 2013 and became refugees in Turkey. Increasing hardships spiralled into a dark enveloping despair. When ASAM picked her up at the bus station, she was on the edge of a precipice, at risk of falling through society’s cracks.

Aisha’s husband had been a tailor in Aleppo. But when their apartment building was destroyed by rocket fire, the family fled to Turkey. They settled in Istanbul, a city with a large Syrian refugee population and Aisha’s husband found a job as a tailor. In 2015, her husband returned to Aleppo after learning that most of his family had been killed in recent fighting. Aisha has not heard from him since.

With her husband gone, Aisha lost the family’s main source of income. She found an occasional job as a cleaner for 40TL a day (US$13). But it wasn’t enough. Her husband’s brother pitched in. The children were not enrolled in school as they too had to work. While Zahra,11, looked after her two young brothers, Fatima, the 12-year-old daughter, worked 12-hour-days with her uncle at the market, moving heavy boxes. Fatima was often treated badly by other shopkeepers in the market. Some days her mother had to force her to go to work. The family was barely making ends meet.

Stressed and depressed, Aisha needed help. She heard about the Child and Family Support Centre from a neighbour. The case workers there put her in sessions with the centre’s psychologist, while the three youngest became regular visitors to the Child Friendly Space. UNICEF supports families such as Aisha’s with funding provided by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).

“With all the staff members, the centre has become the only safe haven I can find,” Aisha said, breaking into a shy smile.

Staff at the center had helped register the three youngest at the local school when, just a few months ago, Fatima’s uncle fell ill with leukaemia and had to be hospitalized. “Without her uncle’s presence, we suspected that Fatima is at risk of facing ill-treatment and we are highly concerned,” said the family’s caseworker, adding that the fragile support structure the centre had created almost collapsed when Aisha lost her apartment.

The help Aisha received gave her the critically needed time to regroup in a hotel for a few days while she was assisted in a search for an apartment. Within a week Aisha moved into an apartment and registered for rent assistance. Case workers are helping her manoeuvre through the complexities of local bureaucracy and register her children in school Aisha now has a full time cleaning job and a regular income. Fatima no longer works at the market. All the children will start school within a week.

Zahra, excited about school, is already making plans for her future. “I want to become a policewoman one day, just to make sure no one talks bad to me and my sister ever again,” said Zahra. “I will protect her.” 

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UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org