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November 22, 2021

Blog: Our Support to Afghan Refugees in Turkey


Blog: Our Support to Afghan Refugees in Turkey

By Kai Hopkins, Head of Humanitarian Programmes

My wife is a doctor. Over the years I have watched with awe and pride as she studied, trained, and then starting practicing. It’s taken years to get to where she is, and now she does what she always wanted to – she makes people better. Awrangzeb is also a doctor. He too studied and trained over many years to learn his craft. But instead of working as a doctor, today Dr Awrangzeb is queuing up in a crowded Istanbul suburb to receive a free box of food. Dr Awrangzeb is from Afghanistan and recently arrived in Turkey. He has travelled for miles with his family, often walking on foot, to escape the Taliban. His crime? Doing what he too always wanted to do – making people better.

Dr Awrangzeb

On the 15 August 2021, the Taliban took control of Kabul. The speed and ease with which the Taliban took control surprised most of us watching, but while we looked on in horror from the comfort of our living rooms, for many, the impending return of Taliban control brought very real danger. Dr Awrangzeb enjoyed a life in Kabul many of us could relate to, but as he looked on at their advance to the capital, he started to panic. Within days he had sold his house and all his belongings, and like so many who were promised so much, found himself at the Hamid Karzai International Airport hoping to get out. He did not get out. And as the suicide bombers targeted the very place where he and family stood, he had to find an alternative escape.

In some ways, Dr Awrangzeb is lucky. There are many still stuck in Kabul, many who are still in danger, and who are hunted by the Taliban. This does not make what Dr Awrangzeb did any less remarkable or brave. He first entered into Iran, crossing the border near Milak in the southwest of Afghanistan. From here, using the proceeds from selling his old life, he paid people smugglers who first crossed him and his family into Pakistan, before entering back into Iran and starting the long and gruelling journey to the Turkish border. Forced to sell everything he had, forced to illegally cross borders and countries, forced to walk for 20 hours a day with barely any food, he finally arrived in Van in Turkey. From there, Dr Awrangzeb moved across Turkey to Istanbul, where there is a large and growing Afghan community. Unlike Syrians who fled civil war, Afghans have no recognised right to protection in Turkey. Those entering illegally simply do not exist here. They cannot get jobs, they cannot go to hospitals, they cannot go to school. They are open to exploitation from greedy landlords or from immoral factory owners paying them pennies for hard labour. They, like many others here, are also crippled by Turkey’s soaring inflation.

Dr Awrangzeb tells me he is tired. He is tired of walking, tired of living in fear, and tired of having his life in the hands of someone else. But he is proud and defiant and shows a strength I could only dream of. He does not want this box of food, he wants a chance to rebuild his life here. And that is what World Jewish Relief, along with our local partner – the International Blue Crescent (IBC) – are trying to offer him. The food is a necessity, but more importantly in this crowded suburb, trained IBC staff are on hand to offer legal advice, emergency support with things like medical care, psychosocial support, and a way to connect with other Afghan refugees hoping to start a new life. More than anything we would like Dr Awrangzeb to get back to doing what he loves, and what he – like all the doctors out there – worked so hard towards.

Providing such support requires time and trust, two things in often short supply. World Jewish Relief are hoping to extend our work in Turkey with IBC to ensure people like Dr Awrangzeb and many others can access this critical support. There are very few organisations working with Afghans here in Turkey, and World Jewish Relief are proud to be making its contribution. The story of Dr Awrangzeb and his family fleeing persecution will resonate with so many of our supporters, and thanks to the generosity of the Jewish community we are hopefully able to help a little in getting him back on his feet.

You can learn more and donate to our Afghan Refugee Crisis Appeal here.