Eight female refugees and 20 children were expelled from Yozgat refugee camp in Turkey in late September and early October after they protested against conditions in the camp.
The refugees threatened to stage a sit-in outside the United Nations mission in the Turkish capital Ankara if their demands were ignored.
Camp Yozgat is situated in a small town by the same name, 170 km east of Ankara. The UN-protected camp provides shelter for mothers and their children seeking asylum from Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia and Somalia. The refugees were housed at the camp after fleeing persecution on ethnic or religious grounds, or after facing domestic violence or threats from family members.
The women organized a protest in mid September after they heard that at least one of the women at the camp had been forced into prostitution to provide food for her child. Some of the women said they would stage a naked protest if their complaints were not taken seriously. A large group of refugees protested on the first day of the protest, but only eight women continued the protest into a second day. The eight women were expelled, along with their children. In all, 28 people were given expulsion orders and told they had two weeks to leave the camp.
IranWire spoke to some of the women who protested. They spoke of dire conditions in the camp, and the failing health of some of the children there.
“At night when we want to sleep, there were cockroaches all around us,” one woman said over Skype. “Many times I have pulled roaches out from underneath the shirt collar of my children, or a dead mouse or a roach out of our food.”
“The 80 women and children who live in the camp have to eat boiled potatoes, and most children suffer from malnutrition,” she said. “Camp employees order their favorite food and eat it in their glass-walled dining hall in front of our hungry children. Our children stand behind the glass for hours and look at the employees eating kebabs.”
“I was a baby when my father had to emigrate because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,” Yasaman, an Afghan refugee in the camp, told IranWire. “I grew up in Iran and went to school there, but the situation in Iran for people without residency permits was very hostile. I decided, as the sole guardian of my child, to emigrate from Iran to Turkey and ask the UN mission in Turkey for help. In 2012, I was smuggled into Turkey. Along the way, the traffickers threatened me, but I managed to get out unharmed. I presented myself to the UN mission in Ankara, and since I had been repeatedly threatened and attacked by some Afghanis because of my ethnic origin they sent me to Camp Yozgat.”
Reyhaneh, an Iranian lesbian, lives in the camp. “Most of the refugees in the camp are women without anyone to look after them, and are in some kind of danger,” she told IranWire. “The Turkish government says that this is a secret camp to protect its residents. The camp has a capacity for a 100 people. Currently it houses close to 30 women and 50 children.”
According to Reyhaneh, the Iranian women in the camp enjoy better conditions than other refugees living there. “They process the cases of Iranian women quickly,” she said. “But there are women of other nationalities like Afghans who have lived here for more than five years in uncertainty. A few days ago one of these women called the UN mission but the gentleman who answered the call told her: ‘If you are an Afghan woman you must prepare yourself to wait for years for your case to be processed.’”
Refugees Expelled after Protest
When women at Yozgat Refugee Camp in Turkey staged a protest against the appalling conditions they were living in and the fact that many of them had turned to prostitution to feed their children, they were told they had to leave the camp. In total, 28 people from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia and other countries — 20 of them children — were given expulsion orders in mid-September. “None of us have savings to rent a room and start a new life,” said one Afghan refugee. She and others were forced to find shelter in nearby towns, despite facing sexual harassment and discrimination when it came to seeking employment. It remains to be seen whether the UN, which officially oversees the camp, or the Turkish government, which appoints directors to run it, will take steps to reintegrate the women into the camp again.Posted by Iranwire English on Friday, October 9, 2015
Attempted Suicides, Cockroaches and Mice
Mosayebeh, who has lived in the camp for more than two and half years, talks about the hardships women face in the camp, and the psychological impact of living there. Over the past few months, she said, she has witnessed five attempted suicides. Fortunately, none of these attempts were successful. “Many times I have seen mothers hitting themselves in front of their children,” she said. “Each family is given a two-by-two-meter room with two bunk beds and a sanitary unit. Hot water is available only twice a week. But in the winter, you might not have hot water even once a week.”
“There’s a curfew in place; you receive a warning if you violate it,” she said. “The camp is about a 40-minute walk from the town center; if any of the women needs something from there, she must walk. There is nothing like a stipend or subsidy here. There are no detergents or disinfectants. The washing machine is broken most of the time and the quality of food in the camp is worse than in prison. Most of the very young children here suffer from malnutrition.”
Mosayebeh also talked about women in the camp who have been forced to sell their bodies. “There is one woman in the camp who arrived with one child and now has five,” she said. “She does not even know who the father or the fathers are.”
“The camp is full of cockroaches and mice,” Yasaman told IranWire. “The mice run freely around the rooms. Each room has a small dirty rug, but you are not allowed to wash it. We are caught between deprivation and filth. The UN says that it has nothing to do with them, that it is the responsibility of the Turkish government. And the Turkish government throws the ball back into the UN’s court.”
“The children suffer, too,” Yasaman said. “Most of the kids in the camp often do not go to school and so they learn nothing. There are no classrooms. And no transportation is available for those children who do go to school. Children lack the most basic educational necessities like notebooks and textbooks. In the winter the temperature might dip to minus 20 degrees Centigrade. Children suffer from severe malnutrition and often come down with either constipation or diarrhea. Without exception, they all suffer from anemia and most need counseling and psychotherapy. If you look at the fingers of the children in the camp you will see that 90 percent of them have chewed their nails to the flesh. The mothers have to deal with a lot of mental pressure and some of them brutally beat their children. The situation in the camp is completely inhuman.”
I asked Yasaman about the protests. “The first night of the protest, we refused to accept food until two o’clock in the morning. The director of the town’s Immigration Bureau came over and talked to the women’s representatives. He promised that they would attend to our complaints on Monday. But on Monday, when we voiced our problems, he repeatedly said, ‘You are like thousands of other people in the parks who are homeless. If you have complaints you can leave the camp.’”
Then, one by one, the protesters were called into the camp director’s office. On the second day of the protest, they were evicted: Eight women and their 20 children. Again, they were told they could find accommodation in the town. “An Ethiopian woman said that police officers had told her that she would be expelled if she continued her protest,” Yasaman said. “This woman has a two-year-old child and a seven-month-old baby.”
I asked about work opportunities. “Each woman has a few children,” Yasaman said. “Although I have an tumor in my eye, I tried to find a job. But around here, people believe that the women in the camp have no morals. Wherever we go to look for a job, we are faced with sexual demands. If women want to avoid this treatment, they have to forget about working.”
The evicted refugees were given two weeks to find alternative accommodation. After they were expelled from Yozgat Camp in early October, they traveled to nearby towns to look for work, trying to find some way of supporting themselves. “None of us have savings to rent a room and start a new life,” she says. “In the two days that we were on strike we had to sit on the pavement even though it was cold and raining hard. The camp enclosed 100 to 200 liras with our expulsion notices — for the costs of moving. For a family of six, 150 liras does not even pay for transportation.”
As we said goodbye, I ask Yasaman what she thinks will happen to her and her children. “We will be homeless,” she says.
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