Rebuilding a Future

5 Years of Humanitarian Aid in Turkey

What are the common threads among all of humanity?

To have a family, to provide for your loved ones, to educate your children, to live in peace.

These concepts are the basic foundations on which many of us build our lives. But for millions of people, this has been an untenable.

For years, regional conflicts in Turkey’s neighbouring countries have contributed to millions of people fleeing their homes, frequently with little more than the clothes on their backs.

When the crisis in Syria began years ago, few foresaw that the conflict would continue into its seventh year and beyond. Many of those fleeing conflict have exhausted their personal savings and struggle to make ends meet.

Over the last five years,
IOM Turkey has assisted
over 2 million
migrants, refugees
and internally displaced Syrians.

For five years, IOM Turkey has provided direct assistance to meet the immediate needs of refugees inside Turkey. As the crisis continued, IOM has scaled up its services to meet the challenges posed by this protracted crisis.

In 2014, IOM joined other UN agencies to provide direct assistance to vulnerable people inside northern Syria.

And when over a million migrants tried to reach Europe in 2015, IOM began providing aid to migrants and refugees rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard.

Refugee Response

In Turkey, IOM’s assistance began by providing for the basic needs of refugees but expanded to focus on protection and resilience support to Syrians and the local Turkish community.

Turkey hosts 3.3 million refugees, more than any other country in the world. (October 2017)

In Turkey, community centres are one way that IOM supports both the refugee and the host communities.

Each centre runs specific activities to address the individual needs of that community. Activities offered at the centres may include education, legal counselling, vocational training, psychosocial support and social conflict management.


“I expanded my customer base by learning Turkish. I’m not fluent yet, but I can book a job.”

Mahmoud has an entrepreneurial spirit. He takes what life gives him and finds a way to make it work. For years, Mahmoud ran a textile factory, making tuxedos and formal outfits for men. “I didn’t go to work each morning because I had to. I went to work because I wanted to,” says Mahmoud. “I had a plan for my business and a plan for my future.”

Mahmoud lived a comfortable life in Syria until the war interrupted his plans. After shelling destroyed both his home and his factory, he had nothing left in Syria. With his wife and two children, he made his way to Turkey. Eager to once again support his family, he found temporary work in a textile factory.

“That was difficult to take. I was once the boss in a factory. Now, I just worked in one. I earned about half of what my Turkish coworkers did. I was able to buy food for my family, but I still felt like I was half of what I once was, less even.”

As he worked, he continued to save what little money he could. He watched and waited. With nearly 400,000 Syrians living in Istanbul, he saw an opening. “I live in a Syrian neighborhood in Istanbul. Many of my friends missed their lives back home. So, I opened a small Syrian grocery store in my neighborhood. I’m able to bring a little bit of Damascus into Istanbul.”

It’s been over a year since the store opened and business is going well. He even found a partner to help work some of the weekends and holidays. “One of the hardest parts of being a Syrian in Turkey, is that I can’t communicate with people. I speak Arabic. Turks speak Turkish. It’s hard to own a business here if you can’t speak the language. That’s why I’m learning Turkish now.”

But one business isn’t enough for Mahmoud. “I bought a van with the earnings from the store. I now operate a small moving company here in Istanbul too,” smiles Mahmoud. “I expanded my customer base by learning Turkish at IOM’s community centre. I’m not fluent yet, but I can book a job.”

Emergency Case Management project provides individualized aid based upon personal circumstances.

The programme compliments existing assistance to provide protection services for migrants, asylum seeks and refugees living in Turkey.


Four year old Zaid’s face lights up when the music begins. For him, music is new. For the first years of his life, Zaid was not able to hear at all. Born one year into the conflict, his family was internally displaced inside Syria for years with limited access to medical assistance – and no access to the medical technology that would let him hear the sound of his mother’s voice for the first time.

In 2016, Zaid’s family was able to leave Syria. Now living in Turkey, Zaid’s family was just getting by and had no hope of affording the medical care that would allow Zaid to hear. Through the individual assistance project, IOM provided Zaid with his first hearing aid.

“After a few days of using the hearing aid, Zaid’s mood noticeably improved. He started dancing. When there’s music playing now, he just gets up and dances all the time,” said Zaid’s father.

“I don’t know what the future will bring. At the moment, Zaid is not able to speak, but hopefully with the hearing aid, one day I will be able to talk with my son,” said the father. “He’s energetic and I just want him to be healthy, happy and like other boys.”

Inside Syria

Since 2014, IOM Turkey has joined other UN agencies
to provide cross border humanitarian relief inside Syria.

A girl stands in a bombed out neighbourhood in Aleppo.

A girl stands in a bombed out neighbourhood in Aleppo.

Each month that the conflict continues, more people are displaced and in need of humanitarian aid. Inside Syria, over 13 million people require humanitarian assistance and approximately 5.76 million people are internally displaced as of July 2017. Children and youth make up more than half of those displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance.

Eighty-five per cent of the population lives in poverty. Access to basic services like food, water and healthcare are limited or prohibitively expensive. IOM is working to address vulnerable people’s needs inside Syria. All of IOM Turkey’s cross border projects are implemented in partnership with Syrian NGOs operating on the ground.

IOM is working to deliver humanitarian relief by providing NFIs and shelter items to those most in need.

Since 2014, IOM has provided critical NFIs to some of the people most affected by the crisis in northern Syria. The most vulnerable individuals are assisted with essential NFIs and winterization items including blankets, coal and stoves, jerry cans, kitchen sets, mattresses, solar lamps and hygiene kits.


“I just want to go back home to work on my land again. I want to rebuild my life.”

As a shepherd and farmer, Hammoud always felt a strong connection to the land on which he lived. Each morning he would wake up as the sun was beginning to warm his fields. Each year, he would see his land flourish under his careful watch.

When war caused him to flee his home, he was devastated. Hammoud’s whole life was in Syria’s Hama Governorate. Now, far from home, he is one of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians in an IDP camp.

As he was adjusting to camp life, both physically and emotionally, it was bombarded. Once again, Hammoud was terrified for his safety and his future. It was another reminder of how uncertain his life had become. In situations like these, it is easy to despair.

IOM Turkey is working to reduce the struggles of vulnerable IDPs in northern Syria by providing critical shelter items to those most in need. Through implementing partners, IOM is working to deliver humanitarian relief in hard-to-reach areas inside Syria.

Hammoud’s family was one of those who received a new tent and basic non-food items following the camp bombardment.

“When will this war end? It is too long. I just want to go back home to work on my land again. I want to rebuild my life.”

Responding to Mediterranean Crisis

In 2015, nearly 850,000 migrants and refugees took the perilous journey to cross into Greece. The majority of those using this migration route were Syrians, followed by Afghans and Pakistanis. Children accounted for more than one in five of those who crossed, but accounted for thirty per cent of all recorded deaths in the Aegean Sea.

As the number of migrants and refugees crossing to Europe continued to increase, IOM partnered with the Turkish Coast Guard to provide assistance directly following rescue. As the only outside organization present on TCG premises, IOM continues to provide food, NFIs, interpretation services and psychosocial support to rescued migrants and refugees.

In October 2015, IOM began operations along Turkey’s coastline to distribute critical NFIs to migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

IOM also provided tents to the Turkish Coast Guard to shield migrants from weather elements, prefabricated cabins to serve as warehouses or changing rooms, plastic chairs and outdoor heaters as migrants wait at the TCG premises.


“I will do whatever it takes to see my children again.”

Meryem can see the European shore from the Turkish coastline. To her, Europe means reuniting with her husband and two children. On this day, she was rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard as she attempted to reach Greece. With her two year old son, she stares at the distant dream.

Meryem and her family fled Aleppo following the disappearance of her father and brother. Eight months pregnant, Meryem crossed into Turkey with her husband and two children. “We planned to live in Turkey, but my husband wasn’t able to find a job as he is 55 years old. The only job he could find paid US$4 a day. We couldn’t live on that amount.” It was the hardest decision of their lives, but Meryem’s husband and their two children were part of the over one million migrants and refugees who crossed into Europe in 2015. Meryem stayed behind in Turkey to deliver their son.

“My family made it all the way to the Netherlands. They sent me money each month and I was able to live comfortably. ”

Meryem continues to search for legal pathways to join her family. In her desperation, she will do whatever it takes to see her other two children again.