A feature story by Merve Kartal
Widad Warrak, a Syrian single-parent refugee mother with four children, needed a great deal of resilience as she fled from the Syrian civil war in 2014 and attempted to hold on to geography she never knew. Although she no longer feels the death anxiety experienced during the civil war, she struggles to find a safe place and continue her own business, even after eight years. Still smiling hopefully: “The best things start when you say it’s over,” she said.
Widad’s colourful threads in he tailor’s studio give her hope for the future.
Syria has been going through one of the most severe humanitarian crises of modern times. The Syrian Civil War has caused a refugee influx of unprecedented size in Turkey’s history. According to the data published by the Ministry of Interior Presidency of Migration Management of Turkey, the number of Syrians under temporary protection status registered in Turkey was 3 million 764 thousand 193 people as of June 9, 2022. Widad Warrak, 43, born in Aleppo is just one of them.
As of June, 9 – There are 3,764,193 Syrian refugees.
Source: Ministry of Interior Presidency of Migration Management of Turkey
Widad begins to tell me about the journey she embarked on in fear not knowing where they were going with her three children aged three, six, 14 at the time, and her sick mother, 62, by reminding me that journeys don’t always start with joy and inspiration.
Her struggle started at the age of 12 when she was working in many different jobs, from candy coating to the production of hair clips. She says that she separated from her husband, whom she married at the age of 21 because he was a person who was not aware of his responsibilities and did not take care of his family. She describes the moment when the situation in Aleppo started to get difficult day by day and she decided to flee to Turkey.
“I was both afraid and worried when I went to work because I had to take care of my mother and children by myself. Has my house been raided? Someone bombed? My six-year-old son passed away in Syria and my older brother died in the war. The increase in cases of abuse and rape against girls pushed me to decide to protect my family, which is why I left the country.”
From Aleppo, Syria to Ankara, Turkey in 2014
At a time when she could not even access basic needs such as water, electricity, food, and she was in a position where life was becoming impossible, she sold the things from her destroyed house and set out for Turkey: “We found someone who would drop us off the Turkish border with the money of the things we sold.”
During the three-day journey, Widad and her family took refuge in Turkey illegally because the borders were closed. They slept in the streets, in mosques, and on benches. A new adventure has just begun with a country she never knew before, a language she never knew to speak, and the family members for whom she is responsible. As for the most difficult moment during the migration: “When my children were hungry, I could not say to them, ‘be a bit more patient, we will eat when we get home’. Because we had no home to go to and no food to eat,” she stated.
Image: Widad of private
Her daughter and son 4 months after arriving in Turkey in 2014.
In this process, when I asked Widad, who only talked about her concerns about her children and mother, what her concerns were about herself, “I never thought of myself.” she answered by remembering the past.
Widad’s most difficult time began after she crossed the border. She says that when they crossed the border and travelled to Ankara by different sorts of transportation, almost all their financial resources were over: “With our remaining money, we could only rent a house where we could live. When we reached Ankara, we had only our clothes and a roof over us.”
She had a hard time choosing words to describe her feelings on the first day in Turkey: “I was in pain of losing my little son and big brother, and I had lost all I had been trying to establish with years of effort.” And recurring questions in her mind are, “How will I take care of my children and my mother in a country whose language we do not know and whose people I do not know? Where will we live? Will we have a home? What will happen to my children’s education? What future awaits us?”
When I asked her why she preferred to come to Ankara, “We always heard that living conditions in Ankara were easier,” she said. “We thought that we could get help from each other because we knew that there were more Syrians here.” It happened like that. Over time, they have begun to meet people who can help them. The new people they met have supported them by giving the staff they don’t have at their home.
According to the normal procedure in Turkey, a refugee who has a valid residence permit in Turkey for 5 years, can apply for citizenship. Widad, who has not yet gotten citizenship and has been living in temporary protection status, emphasized that becoming a citizen is not easy, but also talked about how it gives confidence to their children to school with their current identity cards and to benefit from health and security services.
Widad has begun to meet people over time, although not until she arrived in Turkey. Then she had the opportunity to start learning Turkish. She described the moment when she felt comfortable for the first time as the first day she started working as a tailor in her workplace. Widad’s problem with the language barrier and the lack of equivalence which caused her inability to be employed as a nurse, her real profession, is only one of the most common problems of people who had to immigrate. She decides to establish her own tailor’s studio in Turkey because Syrian people have been forced to work for longer periods for lower wages.
According to the data of the General Directorate of Migration Management, 31% of Syrians have a work permit, at least half of which have established their own company. Widad is among the Syrians who started their own business. First, she set up two sewing machines in her own house and started to sew and sell clothes.
A short time later, upon the advice of her close friend, she attended the Micro Business Game Training organized for entrepreneur refugees. After understanding the meaning of thinking like an entrepreneur and learning basic accounting principles and main financial tools, she expanded her own business with debt financing and created employment opportunities for 11 refugees. She established good friendships with the people she met during this training.
Widad was one of the Syrian participants of the Micro Business Game Training.
A study carried out by the Human Development Foundation in 2019 signifies the importance of the entrepreneurship pathway for the improvement of the Syrian community’s welfare within Turkey. Widad sets out on this path to take care of her family and improve her quality of life. But before she could fully experience the comfort of the time when she signed with some textile companies in Turkey and started to expand her business, the pandemic has begun. Last month she thought gained momentum with the end of the restrictions, but she had to take a break from her work due to the license problem.
In Turkey, where living conditions are getting harder day by day due to economic reasons, difficulties have come one after another just when things started picking up country. On the one hand, she has continued to struggle with finding a home again. When I ask why it’s a problem, we talked about prejudices and discrimination in the country. “We know a lot of people who say we shouldn’t be here. Once, the residents collected signatures and forced us to move out of our apartment. They started insulting my children, then criticizing the way I dress.” Both economic conditions and discrimination against them made the process of finding an apartment difficult. On the other hand, she can’t help but think about how she will pay her rental fee and bills.
Although she has been saying that she has struggled with different difficulties in both countries, she describes the best thing Turkey taught her as:
“There is always hope. Being able to meet good people even under hard conditions makes you have that hope. Because there are people who want to support you on a journey where you lost everything and started from scratch. This is a sign that there is still hope for all of us.”
Apart from Ankara, she visited Izmir, Istanbul, and Mersin as well. I ask what surprised her the most in Turkey, “We were very surprised that Turkey is such a beautiful and organized country. The nature of Turkey is so beautiful, I was amazed.” answered she.
When she looked back at Syria long after her migration, she realized that an environment that respected human dignity has not been presented to people there. While saying that the opportunities in Turkey make the lives of citizens easier, she gives examples of infrastructure and health services necessary for life. She defines the only beauty of being in Syria as being able to express herself and communicate in her mother tongue.
She has not been planning to return to Syria anytime soon. According to her, the war will not end in a short time, and its effects will take a long time to pass. “I am trying to establish an order for my family here, to provide a future for my children, I cannot leave these things and go back to a ruined order,” said Widad.
Asked what she misses most about home, she answers in her tiny voice: “The smell of its soil.”
She hopes to produce and sell in her tailor studio, without debt to anyone in a short while. She dreams of expanding her business and seeing the fruits of her labour for her children.
Widad hopes to produce and sell again in her tailor studio.
She has a dream of there being no war, there is no evil, and humanity living in solidarity and peace. “The world has gotten so bad that I dream of having people you can trust, a sincere smile, a disinterested helping hand, in short, being able to trust the world again.”
Asked if she has hope, “There is always hope,” she said and added
“DON’T DESPAIR, ONLY LOOK BACK TO LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES. THE BEST THINGS START WHEN YOU SAY IT’S OVER.”
This story was originally published at Merve’s personal blog: