Aid agencies fear further increase in Syrian refugees

September 16, 2013

ISTANBUL – Tanil Kahiaian, a refugee from the Syrian city of Aleppo, said he is doing what he can for the others fleeing his country.

He, his wife and two children escaped the Syrian war almost a year ago, and since he has watched "tens of thousands" pour into neighbouring Turkey.

"It is so difficult for me to see this, their poverty. I am donating clothes from my work," Kahiaian told Catholic News Service Sept. 8.

Kahiaian said he considered himself among the fortunate refugees here, because he came with money, was being lodged by Istanbul's Armenian Orthodox community, and was able to quickly get a job with an Armenian clothing firm.

"But the people on the border have nothing," he said. "If there are (air) strikes on Syria, their numbers will be more."

More than two million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries in search of security since the conflict began in 2011. About a million are reportedly children.


Turkey's government is providing basic needs and some education to an estimated 200,000 Syrians in 20 different humanitarian camps along its 880-km border with Syria.

But as many as 260,000 other Syrians are living in other areas in Turkey, including Istanbul, where they often depend mostly on help from private aid groups.

"We are getting more and more (Syrians) by the day," said a Christian aid group official in Istanbul, who requested anonymity due to Turkish laws that officially forbid – but tolerate – religious institutions from performing humanitarian work in the country.

Those involved in refugee aid efforts in Turkey and elsewhere worried that any increase in the violence in Syria, including possible U.S.-led air strikes on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, would send even more people fleeing.

In Jordan, where the UNHCR says 515,000 Syrians have sought shelter, Omar Abawi of the Catholic charity Caritas said that in the northern region of Mafraq alone, as many as 180 Syrian refugees were registering daily for aid.

"Many are pregnant or lactating women. In addition to helping with rent money, we are providing milk, diapers, fresh food, and water heaters needed for hot water to bathe the children," said Abawi.