European youth demands that the EU open borders to refugees

European youth demands that the EU open borders to refugees

As part of the Erasmus Youth Exchange Program, 30 young people from Italy, the Netherlands, Greece and Estonia met with refugees living in Adana.

Volkan PEKAL*

As part of a project implemented by the “New Hopes Youth Group” within the Erasmus Youth Exchange Program, 30 young people from Italy, the Netherlands, Greece and Estonia, met their counterparts from Turkey and visited refugees living in Adana. During the 8 day project, the young participants had a chance to observe the circumstances of refugees in Turkey and visited the refugees living in tents. We asked the project participants for their observations.
The young people interviewed, underlined the tough living conditions for the refugees, called on the European Union to open borders to the refugees and said that “Signing a contract between the EU and Turkey to provide financial aid to the refugees is not a sufficient solution”.


Tillie, a German sociologist is a participant and trainer on the program. Tillie regularly visits Turkey ever since he graduated from the Mersin University in 2011, where he came as an Erasmus exchange student. Tillie told us that they aimed to break down the prejudices with this project, pointed out the common experiences between the Syrian refugees and the child workers from Turkey who were classed as Turkish ‘temporary workers’ and deprived of an education in Germany because they thought they would ‘go back’: “Going back after 5-6 years is not that easy and we have to break down the prejudices first.”


Teo Marcos is from Greece, the major and most dangerous route for the refugees aiming to reach Europe. Teo is familiar with the deaths in the sea and the living conditions of the refugees. Reminding us of the 214 thousand refugees still living under similar tough conditions, and many others who lost their lives in the sea on their way to Greece, he makes a call for all countries, not just Syria’s neighbours, to open their borders and take their share of the refugee population. Teo told us how they visited the tents to play with the children and distribute stationary, and their unforgettable interaction with the grateful families. “The situation is the same in Greece. We have to tell people what we observe and raise awareness.” 


Yousra Elhach, a participant from the Netherlands, previously had limited information about the situation of the refugees in Turkey. Expressing her emotional response in her first contact with the refugees living in tents, she highlights that this is unlike the concrete buildings used by the refugees in the Netherlands. Yousra commented on the contract signed between the EU and Turkey: “We do not have much idea about how they live here after we provide financial aid. It was very hard for us to see they are living in tents here, under the sun and 40 degrees of heat. More countries must open their borders and welcome the refugees.”


Estonian participant Elizabeth Aus also made similar comments and made a call to break down the prejudices: “It is devastating. They have nothing. No jobs. Just the tent they are living in. The government must provide education and health services to these children. Otherwise, they will grow up without a future. We have to be open minded. There are war and suffering. We must never blame people before knowing them.” According to Aus, there are not many refugees in Estonia but those coming from Syria and Ukraine are provided housing, schooling, financial and psychological aid, language courses for social adaptation and it is wrong to see that Europe is closing its borders for those fleeing from war. 


Ömer Zalt was an architecture student in Syria. In the second year of the war, while he was in Dubai with his father, his school was bombed and he has not been back to Syria since then. Losing many friends in this bombing of the school and remaining in Dubai for a year, Zalt reunited with his mother in Turkey and made a fresh start in the architecture department of the Çukurova University, funding his studies with the help of family, friends and temporary employment as a fitness and Zumba instructor, graphic designer and interpreter. After losing his friends, home and future in the war, Zalt decided to take part in the voluntary action and met the youth group organising this project. Expressing their efforts to break down the prejudices about the refugees Zalt says that the refugee crises is a world crisis and everybody has to take responsibility instead of thinking “it is not my problem”.  


One of the Syrian participants, Sedra Hawout, came to Turkey 2 years after the war broke out.  His father, who was an agricultural engineer in Syria, works in the same sector in Mersin. Despite being a refugee himself, this was his first contact with the refugees living in tents. Before the project, he admits thinking that the homeless refugees were living in prefabricated buildings and says “Here people strive for everything. There is no family interaction, no education, nothing. …I wish Syria was not like that. There are children with potential here. This encouraged me to take voluntary action for children.”


How out, who has a degree in banking and insurance, has been seeking work. How out tells us about his job seeking process: “Even when I apply for job vacancies in my sector, they offer me uninsured, low waged positions for 700-900 Turkish Liras per month. When I ask for insurance, the employees say they cannot insure Syrian workers according to the laws. When I say it is legal, they reply ‘You are a Syrian, how can you know better than I do?!’ If we had the chance, we would be staying in our own country. We are not happy with what is going on. Please understand us.”


Danya Najari comes from the relatively less war torn Latakia, where the effects of war on daily life can be seen in energy and water shortages. Saying that the life is not decent in the tents, Najari expresses sorrow especially for the children: “They did not do anything to be blamed. Some of them were even born here. They have dreams about future. Dreams that are impossible to be reached under these conditions here.”  
What the plight of refugees in Turkey shows us is that people, whose lives have already been torn apart by war, have become pawns for politicians who care little for humanitarian law and lack in compassion for the most vulnerable in our world. But the observations of this project provide a hard hitting reminder that Europe urgently needs to acknowledge that it too bears responsibility for this crisis and must make refugees welcome across all European countries. 

* Translated by Ferzan Özyaşar

Last update: 15 July 2017 09:31