Gazali , seven months pregnant, with her two youngest children scampering by her side, shouldn’t be here. Gazali, with her spine broken by the weight that her back must support, should not bend over here, forced as she is to work the ground with her hands, for lack of tools.
But it is. She and a dozen others by her side. They have no other choice. ” What could I do? I need the money. Now that the growing season has started, I can’t stop,” says Gazali, who earns 40 Turkish liras – 4.43 euros – on the days he works. Her husband, Eyad , also works with her. They both earn the same.
“Before the war my life was very different. I was a nurse and we were doing very well. But six years ago we decided to leave, we couldn’t take it anymore. Since then we have lived in those lands next door, in some tents, ” explains Gazali , Syrian and refugee who currently lives in the Turkish city of Reyhanli , on the other side of the Syrian border .
From the field where Gazali, Eyad and other Syrians grow garlic – later, once the good weather approaches, it will be tomatoes – a few hundred meters away you can see the wall that separates them from their previous life, which was just over 10 years ago. , on March 15, 2011, changed forever .
They miss those days that will never come back. “If we could get something better on the other side, we would come back right now,” says Eyad. “And if the bombing stops and it is safe to return, of course. And also if Bashar leaves .” What if he stays? “Then we stay here,” continues the man. The others laugh: “If he doesn’t leave, we won’t come back . ”
After the Syrian civil war escalated in 2014 with the emergence of the Islamic State and, above all, the massive bombing campaigns of Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad , millions of Syrians decided to leave their country. In total, 5.3 million crossed its borders: a million reached Europe , and hundreds of thousands to Lebanon , Jordan and Iraq .
The vast majority, however, stayed in Turkey , where today 3.6 million Syrians live , mostly spread out in the southeastern Turkish provinces, north of the border. They are Sanliurfa, Kahramanmaras, Gaziantep, Kilis and Hatay .
In Reyhanli -in the province of Hatay-, the sun is already beginning to bother these days of early spring, and motorcyclists, already stripped of the winter cold, ride in their vehicles as these latitudes mark: without helmets or brakes, and with the wife behind, both legs hanging from the same side, and a child or two in her arms. Transport economics .
Before 2011, the city had about 100,000 inhabitants . Ten years later, the figure is almost 250,000 : there are so many new residents from the south that a new neighborhood was built in Reyhanli, called Yeni sehir (the new city), which is larger than the old city.
Reyhanli is more Syrian than Turkish . “Here I feel at home, as if I had never left Syria. We are the majority , and also Syrians have many more children than Turks, so Reyhanli is becoming much more Syrian,” says Fatima .
And the truth is that it seems it: the posters in Turkish announcing new or old mobiles, accessories, insurance, kebab, shawarma, hotels, pensions and second-hand cars share space with the Arabs , who announce the same or something similar; Turkish women from the city wear the hijab to Syria ; Syrian, to Turkish; and others do not carry it one way or another.
In the fields and local kitchens, Syrian ingredients have made their way to stay. And trucks with Turkish and Syrian license plates are speeding by: Reyhanli is the gateway to the Idleb region , the only one in all of Syria under independent control of the opposition and Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, a jihadist group that recently broke with Al Qaeda.
“We have more and more mixed marriages and there are hundreds of mixed families – Zeyneb , a friend of Fatima, also a refugee -. Many local Turkish men want to marry Syrian girls because Syrian women take more care of the house. Turkish women are more independent. Al The opposite, for example, that a Turkish woman marries a Syrian, little happens ”.
A chilled welcome
But not everything in southern Turkey consists of a harmonious coexistence between brothers, some locals and the other newcomers. “At first, Turkey opened its borders to Syrians fleeing the war. This happened during the first three or four years of the conflict.
The idea in Ankara was that the war would end soon, and that people who arrived would leave in a few years. Turkey welcomed everyone, but in the short term, “explains Omar Kadkoy , migration specialist at the Turkish think tank Tepav .
But the years passed; the war never ended. Syrians, who were given a “temporary protected status” by the Turkish government , began to stay, to form another life in Turkey, to work. “As more time has passed, the perception with which the local Turkish population has viewed the Syrian population has become more negative .
And the reason for this is above all the way Syrians are seen as a threat to the economic and value system of the Turks, ”says Duygu Merve Uysal , migration researcher at Koç University in Istanbul . Right now, the vast majority of Turks want the Syrians to leave. If it could be yesterday, better.
But the facts are facts: 3.6 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey, many of whom no longer have anything left in their country, and they are not from anywhere, either from one side or the other, because no longer do they there is where to return.
Furthermore, half a million Syrians have been born in Turkey , and a few tens of thousands have opened their businesses in Anatolia. There are about 680,000 Syrian children in Turkish schools ; in a few years, some of these will begin to fill the country’s universities.
The Syrians have come to stay. “I would say that at least 50% of the 3.6 million have the potential to stay in Turkey, even if tomorrow the war stops and everything returns to normal. And the Turks will end up accepting that so many stay, because there will be no other . These Syrians are here, they go to school, to the doctor, to the bakery… Pretending they are not here will not change reality, ”says Kadkoy.
Ali, for example, lives in a city near Reyhanli, Antioch , and although he was born in Aleppo , he does not remember anything about that city, which he left when he was two years old — eight years ago. He says that he loves life in Turkey, that his parents would like to come back, but that he, for the moment, is fine, because he has many friends. “About 10,” he says.
“I’m 12,” says her older sister, Sara , who is quick to explain that Ali does not remember the trip, but that she does, because she was older, and that we arrived in a small plastic boat to the city, and that a few days before his uncle had arrived.
Now the whole family lives together. “When I grow up I want to go to college. In Istanbul or wherever, and I would like to study to be a Turkish and Arabic teacher, ”says 13-year-old Sara.
Like it was before
“Since Syrians have gone to work it is very difficult to find a job . We have lost all jobs. And the rental prices in the city have increased tenfold in recent years, ”says a fruit vendor from Reyhanli, and hopefully the Syrians will leave one day and that everything will go back to the way it was before.
“It is an argument that has part of reality, ” answers the expert Kadkoy, “because the demand for housing has risen enormously, and that increases prices. It is undeniable . But there is also the opposite part of this matter: the premises that rent the apartments benefit from the increase in demand.
On labor issues , Syrians cannot be blamed for taking anyone’s jobs, because the work they do is the least skilled. Before their arrival, the Kurds did. Is it the Syrians’ fault that they are forced to take low-paying jobs in order to eat? The only way to change these perceptions is through integration policies ”.
And meanwhile, Eyad, Gazali and the others are forced to continue working in the fields, growing garlic, tomatoes and whatever they are asked to cultivate that season, always seeing, there in the distance, the wall that marks the border with Syria.
Now that spring is beginning, their morale is somewhat higher. “In winter , since nothing is grown, we don’t work, and we have a hard time,” explains Harran , a young woman who works in the same field as the couple. At least a store next door trusts us with food, which we then pay for when the good weather arrives, in spring and see… ”. ” Ratatatatatatatata, tata, ratatatatata. Boom! Boom! ” , they interrupt a few bursts of conversation.
Eyad explains that it is nothing, that they hear it almost every day, there in the distance, and that the mountains carry the echo of the fighting here, which is why they seem very close even though they are not so close. And besides, that sounds more like antiaircraft batteries firing at airplanes than anything more serious.
“But hey,” says Eyad, “of course we’re scared. We are on this side of the border, they will not come here. Turkey is safe. But sometimes at night I think there may be a mistake … that something falls on us ”.