NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: The war in Syria drags on. Millions of Syrian refugees are trying to survive.
Well, here now to talk about it is WORLD senior editor Mindy Belz. She’s back from a reporting trip to Turkey.
Mindy, good morning.
MINDY BELZ, REPORTER: Good morning, Nick.
EICHER: Well, tell me about why you would go to Turkey to look into the problems of Syrians.
BELZ: Because there are nearly as many Syrians living outside their country as living inside it and Turkey hosts the largest population of Syrian refugees — about 3.5-million. That’s a number that’s doubled since 20-15, just not even 3 years ago. And so now when you’re walking on the streets in Istanbul, for instance, you will hear Arabic almost as much as you’ll hear Turkish.
EICHER Well, Mindy, obviously Turkey is a vastly different country than it was even just a few years ago, so in light of that, talk about the unique problems that Syrian refugees face in a country like Turkey.
BELZ: Well, it’s never easy to be a refugee and especially in this kind of situation where we’re talking about an 8-year war that has created this crisis. But if you’ll remember a few years ago when you had all the migrants fleeing toward Europe, the EU agreed to pay Turkey to stop boat crossings across the Aegean Sea.
So, in effect, the European Union now is paying Turkey to care for refugees within its own country. That’s a good deal for the West. It’s not necessarily such a good deal for the refugees themselves. It’s not at all apparent that the Turkish government is really using all of that money for the refugees. The camps that the Turkish government runs are closed to most NGOs, to most aid groups, closed to reporters. We have a hard time knowing what’s actually going on there, how many people are in those camps, those sorts of things.
And you’ll see a lot of refugees who are living in apartment buildings, living in very rundown housing. I was in just some really wretched housing on the outskirts of one town in Turkey while I was there. And the people there are in just really bad shape. They have tremendous health problems, it’s not clear who’s responsible for their medical care. I sat down with an elderly couple, the man had a broken leg that had had a bent rod put in it and so of course he was crippled from that and was having tremendous pain and issues with that.
I went to a school and it was great to see the work that was being done to help these young Syrian refugees, but these Syrian refugees are so traumatized. Many of the children coming to the school have not spoken in a year or more. They’re having to be re-potty-trained. They have to learn how to use scissors. Things that we would think of as not average for a 3, 4, or 5-year old are the kinds of things that schools are having to deal with.
So there’s just a large strain on everyone who’s dealing with the refugees and it’s not clear at all that Turkey’s really using their resources to help them.
EICHER: I would ask a question that hits at two levels: micro and macro. And by micro I mean maybe church-based and then macro being government policy-based. So, in those two areas – micro, macro, church and government – what can be done to, in your view, to ease the suffering of these people?
BELZ: On the local level, I did see some really fantastic local work being done by churches. This is work that’s being done often by Turks with support from western aid agencies, some of them U-S based.
They’re helping Muslim and Christian refugees alike. They’re helping them with schooling, with language training, they’re setting up small businesses so that they have a means to survive.
Some of this is very small, but what’s interesting is because the need is so great that generally if someone is doing one of these programs well, they grow very quickly and they really are successful at just helping to build community among refugees, which is so important given all that they’ve lost and helping simply to build the communities where the refugees are, just a benefit to the Turks, the Christians, the Muslims, the Syrians, everyone who’s living there.
Finding a political solution is a much harder nut to crack. The war in Syria needs to end and everyone knows that, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. And, really, my sense from being quite close to the war, talking to refugees, talking to a lot of people who are dealing daily with the fallout from this war, I don’t think anyone sees it coming to an end soon. And so I’m not optimistic.
We saw this week a fiery speech from U-N Ambassador Nikki Haley where she really called out Russia and Iran for their aiding this Assad regime. The Assad regime by almost any estimation is engaging in just brutal atrocities aimed at its own people. It’s something that we really haven’t seen since Nazi Germany during World War II on this kind of scale. And it’s been surprising that the United States hasn’t responded since the air strike of 20-17, and so we’ll see if the Trump administration is looking at some stepped up responses here, but right now there’s just no one in this war who really could be called a good guy.
EICHER: Mindy Belz, senior editor for WORLD, just back from a reporting trip to Turkey. Mindy, always great to visit with you. Thanks so much.
BELZ: Thank you.