Geopolitics

Shelter For Syrian Refugees Where Stray Dogs Once Slept

A visit to an abandoned corner of Istanbul, where 40 families who fled Syria live in squalor.

In the streets of Fatih
In the streets of Fatih
Ahmad Khalil

ISTANBUL — In a deserted neighborhood on the outskirts of Istanbul, 40 Syrian families have taken shelter in what was once a refuge for packs of stray dogs. Amid the old crumbling homes, refugees have set up a humble camp.

They are just steps away from the bustling Fatih district, known for its ancient Byzantine walls and a mosque of the same name. But in this forgotten corner there are no utilities — no water or electricity in the abandoned area, now strewn with trash. But the families are desperate to provide a roof over their children’s heads during the long, cold winter.

Some of the roofs have nearly collapsed, leaving just one or two rooms for a family of more than seven people. The Syrians have made tents of blankets and constructed their own windows and doors to shelter themselves.

They bring water from nearby houses or the mosque, and work together to collect remnants of plastic garbage, roaming streets and bins searching for any plastic materials. At the end of the day, everything is placed in a bag three times larger than what they have collected. They gather their finds in their makeshift neighborhood until it becomes a sizable pile. Then they call the tradesman and sell him the scraps.

Two weeks ago, one of the houses fell over on one of the families, and the police hurried to save them. Luckily, no one was killed.

Abu Yahya, 47, has transformed a room for washing the dead in the nearby mosque into a house. With its oppressive iron door and prison-like windows with wind whipping through, he says the room doesn’t feel much different than a Syrian prison cell. But he counts himself fortunate in these hard times.

“I am very lucky. My room is better than half of the houses Syrian people are living in,” he says. “I have a door and a window. True, there is no glass pane to keep the wind out. But I have this blanket and half a mattress. I bring some newspapers on cold days and put them underneath me. My pillow is that rock.”

Most visitors come to this area for sightseeing, attracted by the ancient walls, cobblestone streets and the view over Istanbul. It is shocking to find such scenes of human suffering only a short walk away.

Better than a refugee camp

Near the Fatih Mosque, there is a small deserted house, its windows gone. The building is full of garbage, but children are playing there and making toys from the refuse. One child is playing with a broken shaving blade while another one ties a broken toy car to a rope and pulls it. Their faces are covered in dirt.

Um Ibrahim, from Hama, says that she has been living here with her husband and three children for five months. They are living in a two-room house, one of the rooms without walls. “We made walls out of blankets. And we sleep in the inside room, since it is warmer,” she says.

For her family, the abandoned district is the best option they have. “It is better here than Syria or a refugee camp,” she says. “There is no rent to pay. It is just my husband who is working, and so we can’t afford an apartment. The nice thing here is that it is an area close to every working place.”

Her husband, Abu Ibrahim, collects water bottles in Eminonu to feed the family. “We didn’t have running water or electricity back in Hama, so we are used to this,” Um Ibrahim says.

“Many Turkish people are surprised when they see us and tell us, ‘Why don’t you go to the camps?’ My answer is always that we don’t need anybody to give us charity. We are living and working here to afford our food and needs.”

She says the refugee camps in Turkey are like “prisons,” citing the heavy monitoring and lack of freedom. She believes that this is the right of the government, but she has no interest in integrating her family into camp life.

“Many men got used to staying in their tents all day doing nothing, but making trouble for their wives and children, or even with the police,” she says. “It is unfair, sitting for more than two years without any kind of job. You turn into a lazy person and lose interest in everything. We refuse this type of life.”

The United Nations has appealed for $6.5 billion for Syria and its neighboring countries to help some 16 million people affected by the conflict. The world body has emphasized that the increasing number of Syrian refugees and displaced people is putting pressure on host countries, like Turkey, in a way that could result in deep regional consequences. The UN estimates the number of Syrians displaced inside and outside the country at nine million.

“The host countries can no longer justify to their citizens to care for all of the Syrian refugees as they did at the beginning of the revolution,” Um Ibrahim says, though she admits the steep cost of living is a daily challenge.

“It is now our duty to maintain this hospitality and respect the traditions of this country. It is a shame to sit and ask for charity. We can work and we are working, thank God.”

This story was translated from Arabic by Zain Frayha.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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