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Catholic Aid to Syrian Refugees

Syrian children are seen at the Turkish border fence as gunfire is exchanged between members of the Free Syrian Army and armed Kurds of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in northern Syria 25 Nov. (Photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters) 

27 Nov 2012 – By James Martone

ISTANBUL (CNS) — Many Syrian families fleeing war in their homeland and stranded in Turkey are desperate to provide a sense of normalcy for their children despite the chaos and upheaval of war, said the head of an emergency mission of the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services.

“Both fathers and mothers’ biggest concern (is) that their children are scared and have seen terrible things ... and need something to do,” Jennifer Poidatz, head of the agency’s Syria emergency response team, told Catholic News Service. Poidatz was in Turkey to launch a million- dollar project focused in part on providing hundreds of Syrian refugee children with urgently needed social outlets.

Poidatz said assessments carried out in November showed that a primary concern of refugee parents on the border was that their uprooted and troubled children were spending long hours in cramped and crowded temporary homes with nothing to do.

“Kids are withdrawn and not sleeping. This is what parents are concerned about,” said Poidatz. She said that, in response, CRS was working to establish child- friendly spaces where the children can spend time with each other under the guidance of trained staff and volunteers at facilities providing social activities, including art, theater, dance, sports, reading and games.

“Parents want the best for their kids. Despite having to leave their country, they want normalcy and safety” for children “who need a safe place to go,” Poidatz told CNS Nov. 24 from Turkey's Hatay province, which borders Syria.

CRS’s announcement of the child-friendly spaces coincided with the publication in a newspaper of the results of a Turkish university psychological survey showing that thousands of Syrian refugee children in the country were facing “severe psychological problems.”

“This is threatening for the children’s future,” Bahcesehir University’s Serap Ozer — who was involved in the survey’s fieldwork — told Hurriyet Daily News. The English-language paper put the overall number of Syrian refugee children now in Turkey at 60,000.

Poidatz described the child-friendly spaces as “a starting point” toward addressing the survey’s findings.

“They are based on the expressed desire of parents and will provide a safe, social environment, with recreational and education activities for children that will help them to adapt to their new environment. There will be basic activities to address fear, anger, etc. ... We are also working on linkages for professional care through referral,” Poidatz said.

War between government loyalists and rebels in Syria has sent an estimated 430,000 refugees to bordering countries, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which estimates that about 200,000 are in Turkey, mostly along the 560-mile Turkish-Syrian frontier.

Turkey’s government has set up relief camps with shelter, food, health and limited education services for about 120,000 of these refugees, but UNHCR reports that as many as 80,000 more refugees live in urban areas around the camps or with relatives nearby and are not receiving this government aid.

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Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War Turkey Arab Spring