Zero Waste Project in TurkeySustainable development in low-to-middle-income countries can significantly reduce poverty by increasing jobs, boosting the economy and providing better access to services. Major developments in infrastructure and policies have greatly improved poverty rates in Turkey. The relative poverty rate has been reduced from 23.4% in 2007 to 20.1% in 2017. One step in sustainable development that will result in environmental and economic benefits is the Zero Waste project in Turkey.

The Zero Waste Project

The Zero Waste project was established in Turkey by the country’s first lady, Emine Erdoğan, in 2017. The project added $2.3 billion to the Turkish economy due to a large amount of material and food saved from the reduction of waste. The goals of the Zero Waste project in Turkey are to reduce waste by recycling byproducts of agriculture activities and repurposing hazardous waste. It also works to encourage recycling among citizens by implementing separate recycling bins in cities.

In addition, the government assists farmers under the project to implement zero waste practices. As a result, this maximizes their profits and boosts the economy. Another goal of the project is to bring the recycling rate to 35% in the next two years. This will result in employment opportunities for 100,000 people in recycling and an annual income of $2.7 billion. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, the project aims to expand across the entire country by 2023.

Education

Education is fundamental in encouraging communities to participate in recycling to improve living conditions. A Zero Waste education program was implemented in Turkey schools to educate children on the importance of waste reduction. More than 25,000 public buildings implemented the zero-waste system in 2019.

In addition to reducing waste from food and material, an initiative was created to decrease waste in the ocean and expand the recycling of wastewater. The Zero Waste Blue program launched in 2019 within the Zero Waste Project in Turkey. The program mobilizes the public to keep the water clean by discouraging waste in the seas.

Additional Successes

In 2021, first lady Emine Ergoğan was presented with the first Sustainable Development Goals Action Award of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Turkey. The Zero Waste project received the award because it achieved the goal of “Responsible Consumption and Production.” This focuses on success in sustainable development through programs to improve waste reduction and recycling. “Responsible Consumption and Production” is one of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. This goal aims to reduce waste generation significantly by 2030. The Zero Waste project in Turkey continues to produce environmental changes that will result in economic growth in the next nine years.

Recycled material boosts the economy by requiring less money to produce products and creates new job opportunities. Reduction of food waste also improves food insecurity and scarcity. With continued action, poverty rates in Turkey can continue to decrease.

– Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr

Turkish Educational InequalityWith the COVID-19 pandemic creating economic distress in Turkey, the need for NGOs, nonprofits and organizational aid is bigger than ever. One NGO, the Darüşşafaka Society, is providing much-needed support for one of Turkey’s most vulnerable populations: school children. As Turkey’s oldest non-governmental organization in the field of education, Darüşşafaka Society has served as a model for combating Turkish educational inequality and remains one of the most prominent NGOs in Turkey today.

Low Enrollment Rates in Turkish Schools

In comparison to the majority of EU countries, Turkey has a larger issue with educational enrollment. In 2016, Turkey hit a peak in terms of the percentages of out-of-school adolescents since 2012. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics found that approximately 523, 363 Turkish adolescents were unenrolled, surpassing the previous year by almost 100,000 youths.

While this number has declined in recent years, 2019 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the percentage of Turkish 15-19-year-olds that were unemployed and out of school was 17%, still far above the average 6.6% for OECD countries.

Academic and Socioeconomic Inequality in Turkey

A contributing factor to these numbers is Turkish educational inequality, which impacts technological access, enrollment rates and academic performance overall.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue of Turkish educational inequality. Reports indicate the true severity of the situation, stating that 20% of Turkish students had internet connection issues in 2020, limiting online learning accessibility and resources for students across the country. Additionally, the financial stress of the pandemic put many families in a tight spot, unable to afford necessary tools like school supplies, computers and technological resources. Households were also unable to pay for data and internet to connect to online classes.

The History of Darüşşafaka Society

For many needy children and families, relief has come in the form of Darüşşafaka Society. Darüşşafaka Society is the oldest Turkish NGO in the field of education, originally founded in 1863 as a part of Cemiyet-i Tedrisiyye-i İslamiye or the Islamic Education Society. High-standing intellectuals in Turkey founded Darüşşafaka Society in order to establish formal education channels for needy children and orphans, teaching basic skills like reading, writing and math when governmental efforts fell short.

In more than 100 years since its founding, Darüşşafaka Society has become an integral part of the fight against Turkish educational inequality, providing educational and financial support to needy and orphaned students and expanding on its original mission by constructing a physical campus in Istanbul. The Society offers full scholarships to students as well as complete coverage of all healthcare, living and academic expenses. These costs are covered through donations made to the Society. The Society also strives for scholarship support to its students during their tertiary studies.

Success Stories

The Society’s impact on Turkish educational inequality can be seen through the stories of students, faculty and alumni. One such story is that of Dr. Nahit Çakar, a professor of anesthesiology at Istanbul University who was admitted to Darüşşafaka after struggling to pay for education. Çakar, while not an orphan, was a needy student with significant financial hardships that prevented accessibility to prestigious schools.

Çakar says, “We learned about friendship, camaraderie. We were a group of people coming from the same deprivation and poverty.” After graduating from Darüşşafaka, Çakar went on to become a doctor and professor, aiming to pay forward the gift of education.

Funding for Darüşşafaka Society comes primarily from local community donors but the Society has also found itself in the sights of international corporations in recent years. A 2011 interview with Saffet Karpat, chairman of the Procter & Gamble Turkey Board of Directors, highlighted the “Dream to Reality” flagship project with the Darüşşafaka Society as part of the company’s social responsibility campaign in Turkey. The program has helped more than 10,000 students with projects in the fields of science, photography and music, throughout the course of one year.

Darüşşafaka Society Today

According to Darüşşafaka’s website, the current student cohort amounts to a little less than 1,000 students, many of whom were previously learning in disadvantaged classrooms with up to 60 other students. The success of Darüşşafaka’s students is in part due to the improved learning environments that it provides. For instance, as a result of its rigorous focus on science, Darüşşafaka’s robotics team has become a significant contender in the FIRST Robotics Competition, an annual international STEM and robotics championship held in the U.S.

Comprised entirely of orphaned and disadvantaged students, the team has won championship-division awards since its start in 2009 and was most recently presented with awards in both the Long Island and Houston championships in 2019.

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

According to the Global Partnership for Education, an equal chance at education for students of all backgrounds could reduce international economic disparities by 39%. With the continued efforts of organizations like Darüşşafaka Society, needy, disadvantaged and orphaned students will continue to be provided with opportunities to rise out of poverty through education.

Madeleine Youngblood
Photo: Flickr

Rescue Stories from the Nazarene Fund
The Nazarene Fund is an organization that focuses on rescuing people in captivity. This includes victims of sex slavery, the labor trade, organ harvesting and trafficking. The Nazarene Fund trains operators to lead these missions. These operators travel to the Middle East, Africa, Haiti and other regions of the world to rescue people. Here are some of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories.

Sonia’s Story

ISIS captured Sonia and her entire family when she was only 4 years old. Her family lived in Wardya, a village in Sinjar. ISIS abducted them from their home in 2014. Sonia became separated from her siblings. Later, traffickers imprisoned her in Mosul. Additionally, a family bought Sonia in Mosul nine months later. This family treated her as a slave during the five years they held her captive. The family and Sonia disappeared after ISIS’s defeat in Mosul. Thus, the Nazarene Fund launched a search mission for Sonia. Eventually, the organization found her in an orphanage in Mosul and reunited her with her already rescued family.

Halima’s Story

The second of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories has to do with Halima, a 22-year-old Yazidi woman. Traffickers abducted Halima in Turkey. She spent six years in captivity until The Nazarene Fund rescued her in July 2020. ISIS fighters kidnapped Halima and 18 relatives from her village in northern Iraq. Halima was only 16 years old. She was then enslaved and suffered from violence, abuse and exploitation for five years. ISIS made its last territorial stand in Baghuz, Syria in 2019. Moreover, Halima resided there along with other Yazidi women and children. Later, traffickers planned to sell her as a slave or harvest her organs. Fortunately, The Nazarene Fund intervened and reunited her with her family.

Mayada’s Story

Mayada Abo Chehwan is a 50-year-old Syrian woman born in the District of Hama. Her husband is a pharmacist and she has two daughters. However, everything changed when ISIS attacked. Bombs destroyed Mayada’s home and her husband’s pharmacy. As a result, they fled their home and sold their belongings to survive. The family spent months in neighboring towns and in Lebanon. They eventually returned home. However, the shelling of the town forced the family to flee again. Thus, they sought refuge in Iraq.

One of her daughters was diagnosed with diabetes and the other with severe anxiety. Meanwhile, her husband became partially paralyzed from heart disease. The daughters experienced sexual harassment and threats that others would sell them sex slavery while they searched for jobs. Mayada was becoming desperate. Thankfully, The Nazarene Fund operatives successfully relocated the family to housing in a safe area and provided them with the care and assistance they needed. The Nazarene Fund operatives continue to support the family and are helping them immigrate to Australia.

These are just a few of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories. The organization strives to help people who are in desperate need of assistance. Its goal is to rescue people who cannot help themselves and assist them in maintaining a safe, healthy life.

– Marcella Teresi
Photo: Flickr

Asylum System in Greece
When an asylum seeker reaches Greece after spending an onerous period braving some of the harshest conditions the human experience has to offer, they frequently meet consternation. The country they arrive in submits people looking for a better life to an elaborate system that starves them of their rights as asylum seekers under the Geneva Convention. This inevitably devolves into situations that mirror gross human rights violations. These situations exacerbate what many of the people face in their home country: poverty. The Borgen Project spoke to migration specialist Margaux Cachera to better understand the asylum system in Greece and its effect on poverty.

How the Policy Changed

Cachera worked on Leros, a Greek Island in the southern Aegean sea. He worked in conjunction with a hotspot that serves as the first glimpse of Europe for some migrants. She insists the asylum system in Greece has intrinsic ties to Europe’s policy on migration, which is admittedly poor. “There’s the basic issue of European countries not following the rule of law regarding refugees. One of the main principles of international law is nonrefoulement, which they are violating. So they are infringing on a key principle of refugee law. They simply go around it.”

The process of refugee migration in Europe is as follows; every asylum seeker may submit an application for international protection once inside the boundaries of the asylum country. However, on the fringes of Europe, in places like Spain, Italy and Greece, they face more difficult migration problems than northern countries. They have also increasingly looked to tighten immigration laws and border controls. After years of loosely following international law, a 2016 agreement with Turkey changed everything about the asylum system in Greece.

The controversial legislation and agreement with Turkey ensured that refugees and asylum seekers could no longer travel to other European countries. They are thus stuck in a clogged system that does not want them. Programs to house, feed and integrate asylum seekers have since fallen into disrepair. Cachera contends that in the years since the agreement came into being, the asylum system in Greece has become a divisive political football. “Since then, there has been a shift to a more intense, right-wing government and this agreement has started to be more harshly applied – not that it wasn’t ever applied before – and they [refugees and asylum seekers] are now being put into detention camps at scarier rates.” The asylum system in Greece is now morphing from a process by which people integrate into society to a process by which they experience exclusion or imprisonment.

The Poverty Asylum Seekers Face

If one reaches a Greek island in the hopes of attaining asylum, they immediately face stark reality. Before the 2008 economic crisis in the country, migrants experienced greater employment than natives. The following years proved the opposite, with unemployment rates among refugees dropping at greater rates than natives.

This phenomenon does not apply to asylum seekers, who often cannot obtain employment due to a lack of legal standing in Greece. As a result, they must live in a kind of limbo – unable to be employed and unable to have their case heard. This has created an environment with “no stable electricity or running water, limited food and insufficient space for social distancing.”

Cachera highlights the paradox about the asylum system in Greece – often asylum seekers (those who have not yet received their refugee status) benefit from greater aid than those who have received official status but are soon to lose it if they receive the good news of refugee status. “Asylum seekers don’t face the kind of poverty that refugees do. They have a shelter – which is deplorable but a shelter nonetheless. They have food – daily meals. And a stipend.” It then becomes curious to figure out why the system does not aid in the integration of its new migrants.

Greek’s hostile position to NGOs that help asylum seekers, programs that provide emergency housing and cash assistance programs like ESTIA and HELIOS, which “subsidizes rent and independent housing for up to twelve months” for vulnerable refugees, essentially subjugates asylum seekers to unwanted and uncared for wards of the state. It perpetuates a kind of incomplete existence in which not even prisoners remain.

What this Means for the Future

The solution appears to be one of increased funding to systems that aid asylum seekers and refugees. This functions in addition to the restoration of eligibility periods for programs like ESTIA. Such programs provide housing and cash to newly arrived refugees. Greece must realign itself with the principle of nonrefoulement. It must also reconsider its agreement with Turkey, which amounts to a naked attempt to circumvent established rules of the Geneva Convention, the doctrine that employs itself to protect vulnerable asylum seekers.

Of course, poverty has intrinsic ties to the process. Amnesty International recognizes 1.4 million refugees who currently need resettlement out of the more than 70 million people who have experienced forcible displacement due to “conflict, persecution or natural disasters.” Developing countries host about 84% of these people, which does not include Greece. Without a 180 degree turn to restore dignity and material resources to those waiting for refugee status the system is bound for further disrepair.

Human rights advocates and migration specialists like Margaux Cachera often publicize shameful issues to garner attention for gross injustice. Questions about actionable solutions, though, often engender a bevy of good ideas. “How do you make camps better? Should camps exist at all? I guess we’re not trying to discuss revolution here but enabling people to have agency is key. That’s the whole thing…. Camps in the global north are so regimented to a certain extent that they don’t allow for a microeconomy… Personally, I think it’s crucial that people are allowed to cook by and for themselves if they want. Which can spawn local vendors. People then have money to buy food and cook for their families. Some form of normality in that form would create a more positive social impact inside the camps.”

Depending on our aims for humanity, the global community must understand and address the asylum system in Greece. This would not only benefit those inside the walls of refugee camps and hotspots but also impact global poverty.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Turkey
Human trafficking is “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation” according to the United Nations. People from all different backgrounds and children of all ages can become victims of human trafficking and this crime exists in every region of the world. The Trafficking in Person Report (TIP Report) determined Turkey was a Tier 2 country in 2020. In the last years, the country’s government has demonstrated overall positive efforts toward eliminating human trafficking in Turkey but its tier ranking has remained the same since 2013. The government did not meet requirements in several areas as prosecutors and judges frequently lack experience, cases often undergo dismissal and victims and witnesses often do not participate in court.

Victims of Human Trafficking in Turkey

Victims of human trafficking in Turkey are mainly from Central and South Asia, Eastern Europe, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Morocco and Syria. In recent years, the government of Turkey has faced problems regarding displaced Syrians ending up as trafficking victims due to vulnerability. Syrian refugees, including children, participate in the labor market which involves street begging.

Turkey’s Measures to Fight Human Trafficking

In 2002, the Turkish government established The National Task Force on Fight against Human Trafficking to effectively and strategically combat the issue. From 2002 on, The National Task Force prepared two National Action Plans in the fight against human trafficking in Turkey. The National Action Plans aimed to achieve appropriate international standards in the fight against human trafficking, erase human trafficking in Turkey and strengthen the relationship between government authorities and the local community.

On the other hand, Turkey signed the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Supplementary Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children in March 2003. The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is the central international instrument in the action against organized crime. The purpose of this convention is to develop cooperation between countries and combat organized crime effectively. The objective of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children is:

  1. “To prevent and combat trafficking in persons, paying particular attention to women and children
  2. To protect and assist the victims of such trafficking, with full respect for their human rights and
  3. To promote cooperation among States Parties in order to meet those objectives”

Additionally, Turkey, being a transit and a destination country, became a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in March 2009. The primary purpose of this convection is to fight against human trafficking while guaranteeing gender equality and the protection of human rights. Turkey adopted its efforts to international standards and performs actions against human trafficking in four main areas: prevention, protection, prosecution and cooperation.

Prevention

To prevent human trafficking in Turkey, the Turkish government created the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2014 and established cooperation between the public sector and private sectors. In 2019, 3,001 selected staff participated in training focusing on the issue. Also, a documentary about the victims of human trafficking broadcasted on national channels in 2018. The authorities have declared that Turkey has a high level of cooperation with NGOs and public institutions regarding this matter.

Protection

Identifying and defining a human trafficking victim is the first step in the field of protection. In Turkey, specially trained individuals execute identification procedures. Turkish authorities interviewed 4,500 potential victims of human trafficking; it identified 134 as victims in 2019. Based on the regulations, foreign citizens who suffered from human trafficking in Turkey must stay in special shelters. However, Turkish citizens and child victims must be under the protection of the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services.

Another important factor of protection is the voluntary and safe return program. The country can only return the victim to his/her country of origin in the scope of the voluntary and return program. Turkey is carrying out the program in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Prosecution and Cooperation

The prosecution is one of the most decisive procedures regarding fighting against human trafficking. Article 80 of the Turkish Penal Code criminalizes the trafficking of human beings and envisages a criminal penalty from eight to 12 years of imprisonment and up to 10,000 days of judicial fines.

On the other hand, Turkey signed bilateral agreements with Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine to tackle human trafficking on the regional and international level. Also, Turkey has established security cooperation agreements with more than 100 countries. All of these agreements include articles about the development of cooperation against illegal migration and human trafficking.

Conclusion

Due to the geographical location and regional conflicts, human trafficking in Turkey remains a problem. However, it is important to mention that Turkey is taking the necessary measures to fight against it. Moreover, because of the scope of the crime, it is hard to see instant results. Turkey is trying to follow regulations and is prioritizing the Convention that it ratified in 2003.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Pixabay

Elderly Poverty in Turkey
Turkey is a divided nation, caught between ancient traditions and the promise of modernity. Turkey’s elderly population especially reflects this, as many of Turkey’s elderly struggle to adapt to the drastic changes in social, cultural and economic landscapes. Turkey has the second-fastest-growing elderly population in the OECD, and with this uptick in the elderly population looming on the horizon, the Turkish traditions of elderly care are being put to the test. Yet, with the government turning its attention elsewhere, the silent threat of elderly poverty in Turkey presents a national problem.

Upholding Tradition

In many Turkish traditions, care for the elderly is a key pillar of Turkish values. People in Turkey consider the elderly in family units essential, not only for the sake of respect and tradition but also for the wisdom, knowledge and support they provide for the family. In religious terms, numerous verses and Surahs of the Quran describe the virtuosity regarding caring for the elders, as well as the importance of responsibility for one’s family. Surahs illustrates this in 17:23, in which respect for the elderly receives particular emphasis. In addition, Doctor Nermin Ersoy and Doctorate student İnsaf Altun wrote for the Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics stating that “In ancient Turkish societies the elders kept their existence after death. People believed that their spirit was living in the home.”

However, considering that expectations have determined that the elderly population in Turkey will triple by 2050, Turkey is facing a shortage of financial resources. The combination of these two factors presents an ominous future for the country’s elderly. One study by Statista found that 18.4% of Turkish elderly ages 65 and over already live in poverty. Another 2019 study from the European Social Policy network found that a whopping 9.4% of employed Turks aged 55-64 fell below the poverty line, ultimately amounting to uncared for and neglected elders.

Much-Needed Aid for Turkish Elderly

While the situation is bleak, some Turkish governmental agencies have worked to combat the effects of elderly poverty in Turkey. Prior to the pandemic, the Turkish government was beginning to work on revitalizing already existing elderly support programs. One such program, the Elderly Support Program, offers funding for elderly housing and care facilities, as well as reparative construction for existing civilian and community housing.

Another aid program aimed at helping Turks over the age of 60, the Caregiver Service Program, works to provide caregiving for seniors in need. The program provides financial support to the families of the elderly as well, citing the fact that more than 5.5 million people in the Turkish workforce earn less than the minimum wage, with the majority included in that figure caring for older family members. The Caregiver Service Program also raises awareness of elderly poverty and encourages younger generations to pursue careers in caregiving or related fields.

However, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, national support is not the only aid that some are offering to combat the silent threat of elderly poverty in Turkey. While the government implemented a quarantine for elderly Turks over the age of 65 to minimize the risk of COVID-19 for part of 2020, local organizations are also taking matters into their own hands. A local nonprofit in Istanbul dedicated to helping poverty-stricken Turks of all ages, Derin Yoksulluk Ağı (Deep Poverty Network), stated that even considering current government efforts and the inclusion of “old-age pension, [and] death compensation, even state aids are not enough to take people out of the poverty spiral.” Since the start of the pandemic, the Deep Poverty Network and organizations like it have worked to aid in alleviating the silent threat of elderly poverty in turkey.

The Future of Turkish Elderly Poverty

The current Turkish political landscape does not leave much room for the subject of elderly poverty in Turkey, with governmental attention focused on the more immediate political, economic and social struggles in Turkey. Without receiving the attention of Turkish leadership, the issue of elderly poverty has turned into a silently looming threat. With projections determining that the elderly population will triple by 2050, the silent threat of elderly poverty in Turkey still remains an issue. However, with the continued efforts of state programs and local assistance from organizations like the Deep Poverty Network, hope exists the outlook for Turkey’s elderly population.

– Maddie Youngblood
Photo: Unsplash

Syrian Refugees in Turkey
The war in Syria is a long-standing conflict with severe consequences. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions are still affected by the violence. Nearly 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria, while another 4.5 million have fled Syria since the conflict began. Turkey has received the largest number of refugees, a vast majority requiring medical attention and financial assistance. Here are five facts about the health of Syrian refugees in Turkey and what is being done to help them.

5 Facts About the Health of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

  1. Mental health services are in huge demand. Refugees of all ages are at a higher risk of common mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety PTSD. Dr. Jalal Nofel is a psychiatrist based at the Relief International Mental Health Center and has worked directly with a multitude of refugees. In an interview, Dr. Nofel noted the most frequently treated illness is PTSD. He noted that many “have lost family members and they face financial problems and a vague future.” Six mental health centers span the country, offering a variety of treatments from therapy and medications.
  2. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are in need of prosthetics. According to Relief International, 1.5 million refugees have permanent impairments and over 80,000 of those have lost limbs. Just a mile from the Syrian border resides the National Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs (NSPPL), which specializes in building prosthetics and providing physical therapy. This center sees about 10 patients per day and creates nearly 500 personalized prosthetics a year. NSPPL is just the beginning for prosthetic care, however. With 12 centers across Turkey, 30,450 patients were treated by Relief International in 2018.
  3. Refugees face struggles in regards to nutrition and sanitation. 30-40% of hospitalized patients are classified as malnourished and these numbers rapidly increase in the elderly population. Clean water is also scarce for Syrian refugees. In an article from the Human Rights Watch, an aid worker disclosed that water trucking for camps along the Syria/Turkey border only provides for about 50% of the population. The quality of this water is also lower than pumped water.
  4. Diseases and epidemics, both chronic and viral, plague the population. According to a study by the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, not only are refugees fighting tuberculosis, leishmaniasis and brucellosis, but also gastrointestinal diseases and bacterial meningitis. COVID-19 has also increasingly made life difficult for Syrian refugees in Turkey, as most reside in dense living spaces which enables a rapid spread of the virus. The global pandemic has also had an effect on refugees’ role in the Turkish economy. According to a survey, about 69% of refugees have reported unemployment or suspension of business activity.
  5. Turkey is working to enable refugee recovery. In 2014, the country established a new ID system and temporary protection system, which gave legal immigrants access to the free healthcare system. Although these medical services are free, medicine is not always free. Most refugees are forced to forfeit a large portion of their limited income for medicine. To help further improve healthcare in Turkey, the WHO is working with local NGOs to train medical professionals to deal with the influx of patients.

As more media attention is given to this humanitarian crisis, the sooner aid and a sense of peace can be bestowed to these displaced people. Moving forward, it is essential that the government and other humanitarian organizations continue to prioritize the health of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Turkey’s Foreign Aid
By contributing more than a quarter of the entire world’s humanitarian aid, Turkey became the leading country in providing aid to those in need in 2019. Needless to say, its strength in foreign aid is with humanitarian assistance. With combined efforts of government organizations, nonprofits and private donors, Turkey’s foreign aid comes through giving homes to refugees, aiding during natural disasters and providing relief for struggling countries.

Giving Homes to Refugees

Turkey is currently leading the world in hosting refugees. As of 2020, there are about 4.1 million refugees residing in Turkey. In addition to giving them homes, Turkey also has legislation to keep the foreigners and asylum seekers protected. The Regulation of Temporary Protection (RTP) allows those who are fleeing to Turkey to stay under its protection by making sure they do not have to return to the countries they fled. The Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP) ensures the implementation of the RTP within and around Turkey’s borders.

UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) is working with the government and other organizations, like UNICEF and Global Compact for Refugees, to make sure that the refugees receive proper aid once they are in Turkey’s borders. Living in refugee camps that the country provides, children obtain access to education either in Turkish public schools or temporary education centers. UNHCR encourages social cohesion between the refugees and local community members while monitoring tensions and issues. There are also efforts towards encouraging refugees to begin to rely on themselves and assisting some refugees towards resettlement.

Out of the 4.1 million refugees, about 3.7 million are Syrian. Syria has been in a civil war since 2011 and as a neighboring country, Turkey has been hosting its refugees since 2014.

The rest of the 400,000 refugees are all from different parts of the mostly Middle East but also Africa as well. Around 46% of the 400,000 are from Afghanistan, 39% from Iraq, 11% from Iran and a little less than 2% are from Somalia. The rest of them are other nationalities.

Aiding Countries During Natural Disasters

In addition to taking in refugees, Turkey is very active in its response to natural disasters by sending money or on-site relief. Since the early 2000s, it has conducted emergency foreign aid operations for a number of notable tragedies including:

  • Sending search and rescue teams as well as baby food, food and body bags to the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.
  • Providing $2 million in aid including medical units, first aid items, tents, blankets, clothes, food and body bags to the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
  • Donating $5 million and sending cargo planes with food packages, blankets, sleeping bags and beds to Pakistan for its floods in 2010.
  • Responding the fastest to the typhoons in the Philippines in 2014 by sending a rescue team and around 90 tons of aid including blankets, tents and kitchen equipment.
  • Sending food, clothes and cleaning products including blankets, diapers, sandbags and hygiene supplies to the Balkan floods in 2014.
  • Dispatching a search and rescue team and a medical aid team, and providing 1,000 blankets and 300 parcels of food to the victims of the Nepal earthquake in 2015.
  • Evacuating 1,000 people and sending food and clothes to the 2016 floods in Macedonia.

Helping Struggling Countries

 The last (and possibly the most important) is Turkey’s foreign aid to struggling and underdeveloped countries. Yemen, which is experiencing the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” due to war and famine, has been continuously receiving foreign aid from Turkey. Turkey has two operational offices in Yemen: one in Sana’a and one in Aden. Out of the $7.6 billion that Turkey donated in 2019, almost $5 billion went to Yemen. The offices and funds went toward providing the locals with food and water, preventing diseases like cholera and collecting garbage.

Meanwhile, Turkey provided $2.3 billion to Syrians in Syria during 2019. This aid not only involved helping refugees but also went toward other “diversified humanitarian operations,” according to a conference report of Turkey’s Humanitarian Role. Turkey has worked to relieve the suffering of those still living in Syria near war and siege. For example, in 2016, it was the first to enter Aleppo and assist in the evacuation of its citizens.

In addition, Turkey has been a huge donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which has helped those who are struggling in Gaza, Palestine. Turkey has also directly assisted Palestinians by donating $1 billion in 2017 towards community and development projects, specifically building a hospital (in Gaza) and a number of education centers. Recently, a hospital opened that has been assisting those affected by COVID-19. Other notable countries that Turkey has aided in the past and/or continues to aid include Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia and Georgia.

Turkey: A Model and an Inspiration

Turkey’s demonstration of continuous generosity serves as a leading model for other countries to utilize great amounts of foreign aid in assisting the world’s poor. By combining efforts of government and nonprofits, Turkey has shown that its methods are useful and effective, ones that may serve as a template for others who wish to follow in its footsteps.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Mental Health in Turkey
Turkey is a country with a population of 82 million that is situated in both the continents of Europe and Asia. Turkey has held eight elections in the last five years, endured a failed coup attempt, transitioned to an executive presidential system and has a struggling economy. Inflation has risen as well as unemployment in recent years. Turkish psychologist Ahmet Özcan has said that people have suffered from social isolation and shown symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety due to political polarization and violence. Despite the need, mental health in Turkey has lacked resources and care options.

Statistics Regarding Mental Health Care in Turkey

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that in 2011:

  • About 2.13 psychiatrists per 100,000 people were available.
  • About 1.62 psychologists per 100,000 people were available.
  • Approximately 0.76 social workers per 100,000 people were available.

To put these statistics in perspective, European countries have a significantly higher ratio of mental health care professionals.

  • Finland has 47 psychologists per 100,000 people.
  • The Netherlands has 30 psychologists per 100,000 people.
  • Greece has 14 psychologists per 100,000 people.
  • Denmark has 10 psychologists per 100,000 people.

Mental Health Services Decline Worldwide During COVID-19

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the world has seen a decline in mental health. The effects of bereavement, isolation, rising poverty and fear are causing an increase in substance use, insomnia and anxiety as well as triggering mental health conditions. A World Health Organization survey from June to August 2020 evaluated how mental, neurological and substance use services have changed throughout COVID-19, which services the pandemic has disrupted and how countries are adapting to these adverse challenges. The results showed an overwhelmingly high disruption of mental health services in the 130 countries that participated in the survey including:

  • Reports of 67% disruptions to counseling services.
  • Reports determining 65% disruptions to critical harm reduction services.
  • Statements of 60% disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people.
  • About 78% partial disruptions to school mental health services.

Fighting the Toll on Mental Health in Turkey with Hotlines and Online Counselling

A study determining depression and related factors in a society that COVID-19 affects found that in Turkey, the pandemic has caused mild-level depression across all socio-demographic groups. However, the results of the study also concluded that depression levels were significantly higher in the 18-29 year age group, women, single people and those living in poverty.

While many high-income countries have tried to mitigate the reduction in mental health services and increasing mental health problems with telemedicine or teletherapy, less than 50% of low-income countries have reported deploying these tactics.

Turkey is one low-income country that stands out in its effort to provide easy access to teletherapy from the increased anxiety, fear and negative feelings due to COVID-19. After March 2020, the government launched psycho-social support programs in every province. Turkey set up hotlines to address the various emotional impacts of COVID-19, as well as psychiatric guides for health care workers under risk of infection. There are more than 2,200 volunteers for the hotline, including psychiatry experts, social workers and health professionals from non-governmental organizations. The hotline has served more than 2,000 people according to professor Ejder Yıldırım, a director of the program. The system is set up so hotline workers make three calls to applicants at the first stage of therapy. In the second stage, hotline workers make around five calls over a period of five weeks to follow-up with patients.

The Coronavirus Online Mental Support Program

In Istanbul, Turkey’s most populated city, the local health authority has launched a Coronavirus Online Mental Support Program in addition to the hotline. As of August 2020, more than 1,100 people have used the online support system during the pandemic for issues related to COVID-19, natural disasters and crises.

While the world struggles to deal with the emotional and psychological impact of COVID-19, mental health in Turkey has highlighted the importance of having readily available resources in mental health care, especially in low-income countries.

– Charlotte Severns
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in TurkeyTurkey is located in the Mediterranean between Europe and the Middle East. Once part of the Ottoman Empire, this transcontinental country became autonomous in 1923 and is formally named the Republic of Turkey. After achieving sovereignty, the Turkish government immediately enacted legislation to ensure equality for men and women within politics and society. Despite these reforms, women’s rights in Turkey could still see improvement.

A Brief History of Women’s Rights in Turkey

Women’s rights in Turkey have come a long way since initial equality legislation in 1923. By the 1980s, women’s rights movements had gained more momentum when the Turkish government responded to protests regarding violence against women. In 1985, Turkey ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), thus giving women’s rights issues the political focus they deserve. Through the 1990s, the passage of laws to protect domestic violence survivors granted more fundamental rights to women. However, the Turkish government did not stop there in their fight for women’s rights.

In 2011, the Republic of Turkey—along with many other European countries—drafted and signed a resolution known as the Istanbul Convention to further solidify and protect women’s rights. This resolution provided strict legal action against those who committed violence towards women.  The status of women’s rights in Turkey has improved significantly since 1923, but the existence of said rights are currently at stake.

Women’s Rights Today

On August 13, 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated the government’s plans to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention altogether. Erdoğan explained that the convention’s resolution, “puts a dynamite on the foundation of the family” and is “not legitimate”. His decision has sparked outrage among women’s rights supporters in Turkey as this convention was a major milestone for women’s equality not only in Europe but across the world. Many have taken to the streets to protest Erdoğan’s declaration, but this has not reversed his proposal.

Turkey’s femicide rates have also increased in recent years. Femicide is known broadly as the murder of women and girls, and more specifically is the intentional killing of women simply because they are women. In 2019, 417 women were killed in domestic violence incidents and in 2020, 207 women were killed in homicides. This rise in femicide rates is attributable to both domestic violence and “honor killings”. Honor killings are when relatives or partners kill a loved one if they feel they’ve dishonored them in some way. Turkey has seen an increased rise in honor killings since 2018.

Won’t Back Down

Worldwide domestic violence against women has increased significantly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—and Turkey is no exception. The recent femicide of 27-year-old college student Pınar Gültekin sparked outrage among women’s rights advocates in Turkey. Many have taken to the streets to call attention to rising femicide rates and domestic violence against women. Protests against President Erdoğan’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention have also reignited in the aftermath of Gültekin’s murder.

Today, activists in Turkey are continuing to support organizations and campaigns working to strengthen and protect women’s rights. There is still much work to do to ensure to protect women’s rights in Turkey.

– Sadat Tashin
Photo: Flickr