They Should Come the Legal Way

It’s frustrating to see the dismantling of the US’s refugee program, to see this administration gradually take it apart, piece by piece, quietly in the backdrop of other pressing matters.

While the US president boasts of new religious freedom initiatives, the travel ban is still in place, effectively and indefinitely preventing seven countries from entering the US, calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of billions of people. It’s been like this for two and a half years. The number of refugees being admitted into the US this next year is predicted to be set at zero, which will hurt the most at-risk persecuted Christians.

Piece by piece. Gradually. Quietly.

What has been the most frustrating is American Evangelicals’ response to the sojourner, the stranger, the refugee: “Well, they should come the legal way.”

They should come the legal way.

A rich reply coming from people living in a prosperous country, in the comforts of a saturated society, in the warmth of a stable home, behind a laptop, holding a microphone, in front of a podium, sitting in the White House.

They should come the legal way.

This response is from people who hold no concept of what it’s like to be a threat to your government because of your beliefs, because of your mere existence. No idea of what it feels like to never return to your home for fear of being tortured, persecuted, arrested, raped, or killed.

This response is from people who don’t know what it’s like to walk down the streets of their hometown, past their old elementary school, past the neighborhood market and see bodies hanging from cranes. They do not know what it’s like to clutch their toddler and lay flat in a ditch, eyes squeezed shut, comforting the tiny whimpers, praying for the air-raid sirens to stop. They don’t know what it’s like to meet with other Christians in secret, always changing locations so as not to draw any attention, removing SIM cards from phones, and wrapping bibles in newspaper.

We like to think the legal way to immigrate to the US is to fill out some paperwork, get in line, and wait patiently for your name to be called. That’s reasonable enough, right? To get in line like the rest of them?

And yet the legal way means running away from the jaws of a chomping shark that used to be your home. It means facing concrete barriers you have no choice but to try to climb over. It means carrying the trauma of persecution and years of oppression into interview after interview. Presenting your case in front of callous officers, reliving the nightmare each time, trying to convince them your story is true when their only goal is to look for any inconsistency, any excuse to deny you.

The legal way involves paperwork and a line but there is no line. It’s broken and stopped and nobody can move. When your home is the chomping jaws of a bloodthirsty shark, you cannot wait any longer because waiting breeds madness. 

With this administration, the legal way involves more and more concrete barriers, more and more hoops to jump through. But what all it really boils down to is that the refugee’s skin is a few shades too dark and he carries a passport with the wrong birth country.

When your home is the chomping jaws of a bloodthirsty shark, you cannot wait any longer because waiting breeds madness.

They should come the legal way. They should know English and have professional skills but not too many skills because we don’t want them taking our jobs. They should come from really traumatic situations but not too traumatic because we want them to be able to assimilate and function in our society. But God forbid they arrive with nothing and have to rely on the government and taxpayers’ dollars. They should be able to stand on their own two feet. They should make something of themselves. They should overcome all odds but they better not complain about this country because they should be grateful they’re here. They should…They should…They should.

Our brains like to simplify the things we don’t understand, to reduce a truly complicated topic down to the bare bones. And when life happens outside of our own world, it’s easy for us to keep everything at an arm’s distance. Our minds don’t have the grid to understand suffering and trauma when we’ve lived and breathed in a country soaked in convenience and comfort. But we need to try to understand.

We have a president who boasts of his strong Christian faith – who reads the Bible more than anybody (but nevermind he is thrice-married and doesn’t need to ask for forgiveness) – and yet he is doing all he can to stop refugees from entering the US. We have a president who perpetuates fear, using erroneous words like “infest”, “flood”, “hoards”, and “illegals” to describe refugees and asylum seekers. We have an administration that, in words, identifies as pro-life, but in action does everything it can to dehumanize, criminalize, and erase the oppressed.

Our minds don’t have the grid to understand suffering and trauma when we’ve lived and breathed in a country soaked in convenience and comfort. But we need to try to understand.

The United States is a country of plenty. We have protection and stability and safety and opportunities. We have the freedom to practice our faith or no faith. We have the freedom to speak out against the problems in our country, to stand up against injustices and violations.

We can also be a nation of refuge and humanity. We can support politicians who see the value and inherent worth in immigrants and take steps to tear down walls and help to streamline the immigration process so those fleeing their homes can come legally.

The next time we come across news articles about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers may we never respond with “Well, they should come the legal way” because they are trying to. But instead, to stop and think and respond biblically, extending compassion to our fellow image-bearers of God.

We can be pro-security and pro-compassion. They can go hand-in-hand because one of the holiest of sacraments is welcoming the stranger.

They should come the legal way? That’s a nice thought, but that’s not the point.

Sleeping Churches in the Midst of Fleeing Homes

Arifa unlatches the rusted metal door and collapses the umbrella she used to protect her olive skin from the arid sun. She beckons us inside. With bags and pillows hoisted over our shoulders, we squeeze sideways up the building’s stairs leading to her family’s apartment. 

I had spent the last few days with a group of university students making house visits to refugee families in Turkey where we conducted audio interviews to share with churches back in the U.S. Arifa served as our translator as we listened to several harrowing stories of refugees who had to flee their homes due to death threats from ISIS. After a long day of translating and interviewing and, because we were from out of town, Arifa invited us to stay the night with her family. 

Over her shoulder, she explains why they decided on this apartment and not one closer to downtown, where refugees usually live. Their place is farther out of the city and she needs to take the bus to the police station for her weekly fingerprinted check-ins, a requirement for all refugees in Turkey. This is not a short commute and she must structure her week around it. But the rent in this area is cheap. Markets are nearby. And it’s quiet. She’s thankful for a park across the street so her children can move and play during the long days at home. 

Arifa’s children are not in school because they don’t know the local language, but also because Arifa doesn’t want to expose her children to the Islamic teachings prevalent in the local schools. There’s also fees, transportation logistics, and the inevitable bullying that comes along with being a foreigner. 

In a break of polite small talk, Arifa confides to us she’s concerned about her youngest. “She’s getting chubby,” she says bluntly. We laugh internally at this, knowing that addressing weight is not taboo in Iraqi culture. 

Sounds and smells float from each door as we move down the dimly lit hallway – a Turkish television blaring today’s news, babies crying, dishes clanking, the arrhythmic beat of a drum spilling out from a radio.

She raps softly on a door and we’re immediately greeted by a girl.

“I’m Nadia!” she announces before we’ve had the chance to step through the doorway. A smile widens across her face and she hops up and down, the anticipation of three overnight guests bubbling from inside her.

“Nadia’s English is perfect,” Arifa says to us over the bobbing head of her daughter. She places her keys on a hook near the door and umbrella behind a cabinet. “She’s learned it all from YouTube.”

A man walks in from the kitchen with a small child clinging desperately to the back of his leg. Arifa introduces us to her husband, Bashar, and youngest daughter, Noor, her round brown eyes peering up at us from her father’s pant leg. Arifa motions down the hallway telling us to make ourselves at home while she checks on dinner, the smell of cumin and cardamom floating from the stove. We carry our bags to the bedroom while her daughters scurry ahead of us.

“We all sleep in here together,” Nadia announces as she plops down on one of the two mattresses laying on the cool tile floor, her long black hair tied into two braids. Despite living in a two bedroom apartment, Arifa sleeps with her husband and daughters in one room. It’s better for them all to sleep together after the trauma of fleeing their home in Iraq.  Sleeping with her babies close provides a sense of security and safety in a world where there is none. I’m starkly aware that this is a measure of fear I’ll never know. 

“But tonight,” Nadia announces, “we will sleep in the living room and you three sleep in here––you are our guests!”

We exchange startled looks, hesitant of whether or not to object to the sleeping arrangements, unsure of the nuances of Middle Eastern hosting. Feeling foolish that I had assumed this was the guestroom and not their entire family’s bedroom, I hastily pick up my backpack, ready to apologize for my wrong assumption. I don’t have time to protest as Nadia pulls a laptop onto her legs and begins blasting music videos. Noor, still silent, shoves pictures she has colored in my face.

“Ask her for a back scratch,” Nadia suggests of her younger sister. “She gives great ones.”

***

Post-dinner, we lounge with Arifa’s family, the table still pulled up to the couch, bowls of fresh dates set before us and the television on low in the background. Noor’s backscratches were evidently all that was needed to break the ice and, squished next to me, she loudly demonstrates counting from zero to ten in English and Arabic. 

Arifa passes around tiny tulip-shaped cups of tea and a sugar bowl and begins to tell how and why her family fled to Turkey.

They lived in Northern Iraq in an area called the Ninevah Plain and were fortunate to be close to both their aging parents. They were Chaldean Christians and spoke a dialect of Aramaic, close to the same language Jesus spoke. 

In 2014, Arifa and her family made the difficult decision to flee. Christians in this area had long been targets of persecution, government-sanctioned intimidation, and now threats from terrorist groups, which left many feeling afraid for their and their family’s lives. 

With only a few hours ahead of ISIS’s invasion, Arifa and Bashar packed only the essentials into suitcases: necessary paperwork, clothes, and family heirlooms, only taking the most valuable possessions. As she lists off the things she chose to pack, my eyes drift to the framed picture of Christ on the cross fixed to the wall above their television. 

“There is nothing left for us in Iraq,” Bashar interjects. “The United Nations is––,” he forcefully brushes his hands together then throws them in the air to express his disgust with the lack of help. Arifa and Bashar speak of the frustrations of not being able to resettle their family in a safe and stable place, of living in limbo, of not knowing what tomorrow will hold.

Arifa shows photos she received from a relative still living in Iraq. As she swipes her finger across the phone screen, updated pictures of what was once their home flashed before us. Kitchen cabinets were ripped from the walls. The ISIS symbol was spray-painted over countertops. Her daughters’ toys were scattered on the floor. A rumpled, well-loved doll lay discarded in the corner. Sofas were overturned and carpets ripped to shreds. More graffiti desecrated every surface. The violent photos reveal that their home was no longer a home but a symbol of many who have nothing left to go back to. What once held memories had been stolen and torn into pieces.

“Why are the American churches sleeping?” Bashar punctuates the air in the living room. We have no answer. We sympathetically shrug our shoulders and murmur our apologies, as if saying, “I’m sorry” for an entire nation and its politicians makes up for it. Christian brothers and sisters are being targeted, persecuted, and fleeing their homeland, yet the American Church is sleeping. 

He sighs, looking over at his daughters playing quietly on the sofa, shuffling coloring pages and crayons between them. Leaning back against the armchair, with a tea glass in his hand, he sighs, “We cannot go back home and nobody else wants us.”

***

It’s summer 2018 and Arifia’s family will leave in the next month to Canada once their plane tickets are issued. She’s overjoyed, understandably. They can begin to look forward to a new life where they no longer look over their shoulder, where they no longer sleep on the same mattress or live life with uncertainty and fear. 

I’m married now. My husband is a refugee and suddenly the stories I had heard before now hit a lot closer to home. We have been waiting since our wedding in 2017 for the United States to open their doors. Arifa’s family and countless other Iraqi refugees were able to move to Canada in 2018. Knowing the importance of immigration, Canada was the leading host country of formally resettled refugees that year.

I think back to the question Arifa’s husband had asked three years ago: “Why are the American churches sleeping?”

We live in a time where 37,000 people are forced to flee their home every day. As of June 2019, there are 25.9 million refugees in the world –– the highest ever recorded. These numbers show no signs of stopping.

Then why are American Christians sleeping? Are we so saturated in entertainment, in misplaced outrage, in bogus persecution that we cannot look up for a minute to see the suffering going on around us? Are we so focused on the semantics and legalities that we justify away the atrocities with a shrug of a shoulder? Is the “not my problem” attitude one we really want to take on?

In an op-ed to USA Today, Dr. David Curry, CEO and President of Open Doors USA, writes on the detachment we feel when it comes to the Global Church. He describes this indifference as “whistling through the graveyard.” Are we so blinded by our own lives and comforts that we cannot see the death and destruction of our brothers and sisters?

Curry writes, “I envision a world where American Christians remember persecuted Christians in hostile regions in every church, every Sunday. Through these sorts of efforts, I have hope that an awakening is possible.”

The Church is global. We must remember this.

Remember the poor. Visit the prisoner. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Welcome the stranger. Deliver the oppressed. Serve the least. And rise for the marginalized (no matter their country of origin. No matter if they have the right papers).

This is where the Shepherd is. Are we listening or are we sleeping?

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This is part four of a series titled “Stories of Refugees in Turkey”, dedicated to sharing the stories of refugees with hopes of giving readers a look past numbers and statistics into the dreams and lives of real people. Read part onepart two, and part three. (All names have been changed.)

Trump’s Other Wall | Two Years After the Travel Ban

“How have you been sleeping?” we ask new mom, Maryam* as she beckons us into the back bedroom. Her in-laws, visiting from Iran, are sitting in the living room with Maryam’s husband. Their 3-year-old son, Ahmad (who happens to know perfect English) is playing on the floor with an assortment of plastic animal figurines. The low hum from the T.V. plays traditional Persian music.

“Fine, fine”, she says, a surprisingly positive response coming from someone who has just given birth. We tiptoe to a bedside bassinet and peek in over the blankets to see her son, Yosef, sleeping peacefully. In hushed voices, we coo over the sweet newborn.

Two weeks earlier at a local hospital here in Turkey, Yosef was born with a cleft palate. Unable to be properly breastfed, he needs a specialized bottle and specific formula to receive the nutrients he needs to thrive.

Returning back to the living room and our half-finished cups of tea, the conversation has now turned to the inevitable surgery Yosef will have to undergo and the logistics of lining up transportation to get the hospital, a translator who speaks Turkish and Farsi, taking time off of work, and payment.

They then told us of Maryan’s brother-in-law, living and working in Seattle who has been working tirelessly to reunite his family. Exasperated, Maryam’s husband leans forward and asks, “Isn’t there something you can do to get us to the U.S.?”


With an uptick in oppression towards religious and ethnic minorities, Reza fled Iran with his wife and children to Turkey where they applied and were accepted as refugees.

Unable to work legally in Turkey, Reza’s family scraped by on unstable, under-the-table work in construction and hairdressing, working long hours with unfair wages while they waited for their immigration processes to move forward.

Reza’s process was an urgent one, with a blood vessel near his heart threatening to burst. He was promised a life-saving operation by doctors once he arrived in the United States.

After years of extensive interviews, submitting background checks, job records, and undergoing medical examinations, Reza’s family was finally able to go to the U.S. Ecstatic and with plane tickets in hand, they sold all their belongings and packed what they could into suitcases, dreaming of what life would be like once out of Turkey.

But then a new president was elected in the U.S. and their flight was canceled. 

Then rescheduled.

Then canceled.

And rescheduled and canceled again.

After 15 months of being at the mercy of out-of-touch politicians, and feeling like pawns on a board game, Reza collapsed on his apartment balcony here in Turkey. His blood vessel had finally burst. He died of a heart attack at age 54, leaving behind his wife and two sons.


As America looks to the south of the border and to the building of the wall, there is still another invisible wall that has been in place since the beginning of 2017. 

Two years ago today Trump unveiled a travel ban that would bar people from seven countries from coming into the United States for 90 days, then 120 days, and now indefinitely.

It’s where my family and I find ourselves today. Spread out across several countries, divided, and with no end in sight.

Two years ago today as my then fiance and I sat in a coffee shop dreaming of our wedding and our life in America, we first read the headlines of the travel ban, which would drastically change the course of our lives. We glued ourselves to the screen, watching news clips of the mass chaos this order unlocked.

It was a “better safe than sorry” policy carelessly put into place and came with an enormous human cost. People are separated from loved ones, spouses, fiances, sons, daughters, and parents. They are divided – dying, even – while stuck in bureaucratic limbo. 

My sister cannot make plans to marry her fiance, even though he is a citizen of a European country. They are stopped only because of the place of birth listed on his passport.

My mother-in-law is separated from her two sons, unable to visit them. She has missed weddings and births as she waits in limbo.

My husband cannot think about or plan for the future. He is told by immigration officials to “wait, just wait”. And so he does for two years and counting.


And now America looks from the southern border to the east coast as all eyes are on the state of New York, which passed a law permitting late-term abortions.

As I wade through all of the different discussions happening, feeling heartbroken and heavy, confused at what is factual, angry at what is celebrated as an expansion of rights, I cannot help but palpably feel the disconnect of the Church.

Oh Church, why are we so quick to slap a “pro-life” frame across our profile picture when just last week we were sharing memes and links that personify immigrants as wild animals, Middle Easterners as terrorists, and the poor as lazy – using language that erases the humanity, the life, of those who are vulnerable?

It is disconcerting to see the Chruch applauding President Trump’s anti-abortion statement when he demeans the lives of immigrants and bans millions of people from entering the country solely because of the passport they carry and the color of their skin.

Why do we find it easier to be silent on most human rights issues except for this one?

We cannot let abortion become a standalone issue that disconnects us from so many other human rights issues.

The travel ban is a pro-life issue. 

I pray that, far beyond defining ourselves as “pro-life”, we live out Christ’s heart: aligning ourselves with the oppressed and the vulnerable, loving our neighbors (not just those who have the same citizenship as us), caring for the poor, having compassion for refugees, seeing the humanity in immigrants, and working to reunite families.

A travel ban that cannot tell the difference between a terrorist and a victim is heartless, anti-family, and anti-life. We cannot support it.

While it seems like every day there is something new to be (oftentimes, rightly) outraged over, please remember that there are millions of people still greatly affected by this ban. 

Each day, week, month, year that goes by where we do not talk about the injustice of the travel ban, is another day that it is a victory for those who support it.

The travel ban is affecting real, innocent people. 

It is time to end the cruelty of the separation of families and loved ones. It is time to support all life.

Two years is too long.

*All names have been changed.

When Peace Kisses Righteousness

There’s something about the Advent season that’s so cozy to me. Maybe it brings back memories of growing up, arguing across the dinner table over who gets to light the wreath-encircled candles and who gets to blow them out. It brings visions of coming home from school, letting the backpack fall to the ground as another numbered paper door is peeled back revealing a tiny piece of candy.

Pondering on this season for a moment, one of my favorite names for Jesus has always been Prince of Peace. The second week of Advent is traditionally the time we meditate on this: Christ the babe, bringer of Peace.

But when I look around, when I read the headlines across my screen, when I hear stories of those close to me struggling, peace is the furthest feeling in my heart.

The other day, my husband got a call from a desperate man who had lost his family (like, literally lost, as in could not find them) while trying to cross from Afghanistan into Turkey. Traffickers confirmed to the 400 fleeing people that the coast was clear, and yet when they moved, the border patrol flashed their lights and sirens and everyone scattered in a panic.

He’s been searching for his lost family for three years.

What does peace mean when the world is a mess, people are separated, and there’s war, famine, and comfortable apathy across the globe?

What does peace mean when my family is spread out over three different continents? What does it mean when my husband has held the title “refugee” for five years?

When I get overwhelmed by the blackened headlines and tragic stories of those who live just a town over, my view of God narrows quite a bit. Those Christmassy words: hope, peace, joy, and love become blurry before my eyes.

I listen far too much to the nightly news, irritating sound bites, political panels, and op-eds. I wring my hands, at a loss of what to do with the sheer magnitude of the refugee crisis. The migrant caravan at the border. Police brutality. How the Church seems to have lost sight of the gospel.

I tend to gather all of these things in my arms and then inevitably buckle under the weight of the racket.

But if I stand still for just a minute, raise my hand up to the noise, I know God is whispering something to me and, ever-patiently, waiting for me to stop and listen to his voice.

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. Psalm 85:10-13

Through a gentle whisper, I am reminded that our Savior has already come into this mess of a world, ushering in an intimate greeting between peace and righteousness. Two things that seem so opposite, wholly embrace. And up springs love and faithfulness too, linking arms. Jesus Christ coming as a babe to Bethlehem is the fulfillment of this.

Oh, how we yearn for eternal, divine peace.

True peace, heavenly peace, peace that exceeds our understanding, is found only in Christ Jesus. This child, born to a teenage girl and a carpenter, made heaven and earth kiss. The mysterious love of God reached down from above and became fully human so that we can experience his peace. This Prince of Peace is the bringer of Peace. He came and he is still here with us. Heaven and earth have embraced.

So like most days in our life, I hoist happiness onto one hip and sadness onto the other – two companions that are always with me. We will string up dried orange slices like we do every year. My students will cut out white paper snowflakes while dancing to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”. We’ll put up our humble little Christmas tree (it’s somewhere between Charlie Brown’s and Clark Griswold’s). There’ll be phone calls across the ocean to family. My mother-in-law will hum “Silent Night” as she makes tea in the kitchen. Hymns will be sung in a cozy living room. Every evening before dinner we light a candle (labeled as cinnamon scented but proved to be completely false upon purchasing and lighting it #expatproblems).

And yes, somewhere in my heart there’s the ever-present feeling of homesickness, of praying for stability, for that one phone call to come through. The wondering of how this is all going to work out (will it ever work out?). There’s the burden of the brokenness and the chaos and the injustice of this world sitting in there too. Joy and sorrow, hand-in-hand.

True peace, shalom, is what we all long for. This has and will happen through God’s only Son. His kingdom is here now, working and moving and restoring. I know this and I cling to this. It is also not yet. And we yearn and anticipate for its full completeness.

This Christmas season, may we all know the promises of true peace and righteousness given to us through Jesus Christ.

The Prince of Peace has come, he is still here, and he is coming again.

The Girl at the Bus Stop: Stories of Refugees in Turkey

This is part three of a series titled “Stories of Refugees in Turkey”, dedicated to sharing the stories of refugees with hopes of giving readers a look past numbers and statistics into the dreams and lives of real people. Read part one and part two.


The bus stop overhang offers a feeble attempt at shade from the Middle East sun, but I arrived too late to snag a spot underneath it
. The stop is full of locals on their way to work and a few adventurous tourists keen on taking local transportation while visiting.

I drag the back of my hand across my forehead and consider what’s worse: dry heat or humid heat. The taxi stand poised next to the bus stop serves as a temptation to leave immediately in the comforts of an air-conditioned ride by paying more than ten times the bus fareI gaze at the seducing yellow cabs as I wave my cell phone back and forth in front of my face in a failed experiment to create a breeze. 

As we all peer down the road, waiting for the bus to turn the corner, a beat up car pulls up and out tumbles more people than a vehicle of that size should be able to fit. We all look up from our phones and our wristwatches and our conversations. Out steps several women dressed in layers of thin, draping fabrics and floral scarves wrapped around their faces, the cloth pooling at their necks. They carry a flurry of children, some anchored to their hips, some by the hand, and some running, happy to be out of the cramped car.

I notice the reddish brown hair, sallow skin, and tattered clothes and shoes from the children running in circles, the throaty, melodic sounds coming from the mouths of their mothers, and stares from the locals and am able to assume they are Syrian refugees.

Currently, there are 973,200 Syrian school-age children in Turkey with the number on a steady increase. As of the 2017-2018 school year, about 63% of Syrian children were enrolled in Turkish public schools or temporary education centers. In Turkey, all children have a right to free education including those from families who have sought asylum. And yet, many barriers still remain. Because Syrian families have hopes to return to Syria, parents have expressed concerns over their children attending schools taught in Turkish, for fear of losing their native language. Along with language barriers, Syrian refugees cited economic hardship, social integration with Turkish children, and lack of information on how to register for school as issues preventing them from enrolling their children in school.

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Syrian refugee children play in a kindergarten at Midyat refugee camp in Mardin, Turkey. (FILE Photo) | Daily Sabah

Watching the women attempt to gather their energetic children close, one small girl makes her way towards me, giggling and staring. I make a mental note to look up how to say, “What’s your name?” in Arabic. The few lone phrases I do know escape me and wouldn’t have helped anyway. So I resort to smiling back at the child and giving a small wave.

Just months earlier, the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach. Alan Kurdi, dressed in a red shirt and blue shorts and with both of his shoes still on, had passed away in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. His family was determined to reach safety and security, but only his father survived. The photo of Alan had sparked outrage all across the globe, particularly in the West. And yet, now, three years later, little has been done to help the plight of Syrians and other refugees here in Turkey. 

With nothing to say to her, I contemplate jogging over to the market across the street to buy a treat for her and the other children but am stopped by the logistics of missing the bus and the awkwardness that giving food might bringI don’t have time to make up my mind because the bus approaches and everyone begins to shift, gathering their things and making way to the curb.

For a second I am amused at the mix of people – the tourists and me, local Turks, and Syrian refugees – all partaking in the same mundane activity. We all step on the bus and I still keep my eyes on the women and their children as everyone settles into the empty seats.

 

Turkish Coast guard member carries a baby into rescue boat after total of 174 Syrian refugees captured by Turkish coast guard while they were illegally trying to reach Greece's, in shores of Antalya, southern province of Turkey on March 12, 2016.
Turkish Coastguard member carries a baby into a rescue boat on the shores of southern Turkey after a total of 174 Syrian refugees tried to reach Greece.

There’s a commotion at the front of the bus between the driver and one of the Syrian women. The questions she is asking fluster the driver as he is likely impatient at the interruption to his clockwork routine. There’s some more back and forth jabber before the driver throws up his hands and exclaims, “Allah Allah!” (“Good Lord!”) in exasperation. I watch in sympathy, wishing I had the language to help get across what they were trying to say to each other. As everyone stares at the action unfolding, I hear the word hastane exchanged between the two and there is a final understanding that the group wants to go to the hospital.

Turkey hosts 3.5 million refugees (over 90% are Syrian). Registered refugees have access to free medical care and prescription medications. However, there are few Arabic (and Farsi and Dari) speaking medical staff and translators making it difficult to go to hospitals for medical concerns. Furthermore, according to Human Rights Watch, Turkey has begun turning away Syrians who cross into Turkey and denying asylum registration to those who are already here making it difficult to access free medical care.

Through the small opening of the two seats in front of me, I see a pair of round eyes staring back at me. It’s the same girl from the bus stop. I wave and smile again, my only offering. She peers her head into the aisle and around the seat. I motion for her to sit next to me and she gets up and takes the empty seat. We continue our same nonverbal exchange: smile and wave until we come to the stop in front of the hospital. A woman motions to the girl to get up, they gather the rest of the children, pay the driver, and step off.