Becoming a refugee at the age of 70 with serious health situation

Suruç, Turkey, 9 December, 70-year-old Muhammed İbrahim Shanun, originally from central Ayn al-Arab (also known as Kobani) is one of the over 3.2 million Syrians refugees. The war represents a cornerstone in his life. “Before the war, I led a happy and well-off life, owning a house, a shop and a car. After working so hard for years, I was finally retired and hoped that my life would now be easier and more peaceful,” he said.

We spoke to Ibrahim in Suruç where he fled like two months ago. He started saying, “This is not easy to explain. You have no other choice than leaving everything behind. I could not live with the fear of leaving all behind and as a result I had a blood clotting”. This was the first dramatic change when he experienced blood clotting in one of his cerebral veins three years ago. This caused damage to another vein connecting into his alimentary canal. As a result, he lost his ability to eat and swallow. Doctors explained that what he went through stemmed largely from the sorrow and stress he had been exposed to. From that moment on, he started a life on commute between Syria to Turkey. As health facilities in Ayn al-Arab did not allow for a treatment to his condition, his only change for receiving treatment was to travel to Gaziantep. As he had the right to access to free health services under Temporary Protection regime declared for Syrian refugees in Turkey, he received treatment throughout this period. However, his health situation was not an easy one to fully recover and he needed long-term treatment.

Living in Ayn al-Arab, regarded as largely spare from conflict and a safe haven for many others internally displaced in Syria; 70-year-old Muhammed Ibrahim Shanun, was forced to leave his home behind upon the news of armed groups and conflict approaching the city arrived. He fled to Turkey to save his life. He didn’t have acquaintance in Suruc to stay with contrary to many others. He was offered accommodation by the Turkish authorities in a temporary transit shelter, YİBO, in Suruç where he is currently living. He resumed his treatment in Suruç State Hospital. He can only be fed through food, which is processed in the vegetable/fruit chopper recommended by his doctors and then injected through his nose. Therefore, in the shelter, he is provided by the authorities only with food which can be turned into liquid through the chopper and suitable to his health condition. He is usually fed with rice pulp and milk.

Speaking of how the war in Syria has affected his family, 70-year-old Muhammed Ibrahim Shanun says as follows: “I have 10 children, 7 boys and 3 daughters. Some live in Europe while some had gone to Iraq to work before this crisis hit Ayn al-Arab. I thought of moving next to my children in Iraq, but I am getting assistance here in Turkey and I am safe, I cannot risk of going now with my health situation.” He shared his story woven with despair to UNHCR staff, in his room in YİBO. The strain of what he had gone through was apparent on his face. He demonstrated the chopper standing on a small table, together with a set of injectors, plastic tubes and medicines. He relies on these to prepare food for himself. “This is not the life I had dreamt of having in the elderly ages. I still feel lucky; I reached health assistance in Turkey, even before we forced to flee to Suruc…”, he adds. I am dependent on this assistance and thankful to the authorities helping us here. I would have died otherwise” says Ibrahim.

Muhammed Ibrahim Shanun is among more than 190,000, according to the authorities, who have found shelter in Turkey following recent escalation of violence in Ayn al-Arab. Turkey currently hosts some 1.6 million Syrian refugees, a large majority of whom are residing in urban settings. More than 1 million refugees are registered in Turkey; some 222,000 being in 22 camps set up and managed by Turkey under the coordination of the Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD).

Suruç which is a small border town of Şanlıurfa with a population of some 100,000 served as a safe haven to a population around two times bigger than that of its own with the recent wave of refugees from Ayn al-Arab.

During the first days of the influx, Turkey set up 3 first response health rub hall tents for the new arrivals to conduct health checks upon Syrians crossing the Turkish border. Authorities made available 30 ambulances to take refugees with injuries or health problems to hospitals. Health assistance covered measles and polio vaccination for children between 0-15 years. To replace the current 2 transit accommodation centers, a new camp is being set up with a capacity of 30.000 in Suruç to address the sheltering needs. UNHCR extends its supports to this camp with core relief items, as it has done to other camps.

Within the framework of its response to the Syria emergency, Turkey declared Temporary Protection when first Syrians started arriving in Turkey in April 2011; and has been trying to respond to main needs, including health needs of Syrian refugees with the numbers increasing. As per AFAD and Turkish Ministry of Health data, as of 2014 mid-November, over 6,000,000 polyclinic services have been provided to Syrian refugees while over 186,750 operations have been conducted. So far 382.491 Syrian refugees have been vaccinated in total, including over 248.145 children between 0-14 ages and mobile public health teams are visiting towns to continue vaccination of the kids.

UNHCR has been supporting Turkey with its response in and out of camps since the crisis started. Given the majority of the Syrian refugees are living in urban settings, UNHCR has been extending its support to include support to host communities. Health service is one of the basic services that Syrian refugees are using the same resources with the host communities. To support that, following discussions with authorities with regards to needs and response, UNHCR has so far donated 10 ambulances; hygiene parcels for a total of 132,520 beneficiaries; 10 cold chain vaccine transport vehicles; 7 mobile clinics; 10 prefabricated health clinics; 578 wheelchairs and discussions are ongoing for further support needed.