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U.S. Catholics’ Relief Efforts Help Syrians in Turkey

A Syrian refugee woman carries her child in late December at a refugee camp near the Turkish town of Kilis. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., who traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border, said Catholic Relief Services programs are focusing on refugees living outside of the camps, because they do not benefit from the government services and are the most in need. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters) 

04 Jan 2013 – By James Martone

ISTANBUL (CNS) — The relief efforts of U.S. Catholics are helping Syrian refugees in Turkey face their ordeal in a dignified manner that respects their priorities, said Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.

Bishop Kicanas, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border to see programs the agency has implemented as part of its Syria emergency response program. He spent 3 January in Kilis province, which serves as a major entry point for Syrian fleeing conflict at home and houses humanitarian aid camps run by the Turkish government.

The bishop told Catholic News Service on 4 January that he had spoken to a man who had just received a cash transfer of $150 through a local post office. Providing cash grants is one of the C.R.S. programs designed to help the recipients buy products of their choice for winterization, including children’s clothing, blankets, heating materials, carpets and rent.

“The man, named Mohammed, said it was very organized and ... he felt that they were respecting the dignity of the people to prioritize their needs,” said Bishop Kicanas.

The “man said that he’d never felt so respected,” the bishop said.

The city of Kilis has nearly 5,000 refugee families — the largest concentration of Syrians living outside the relief camps, which offer shelter, food, health and educational services.

Bishop Kicanas said the C.R.S. programs focus on refugees living outside of the camps, because they do not benefit from the government services and are the most in need.

“The wounded are cared for in the camp but, outside, they are on their own,” Bishop Kicanas said.

He said that in addition to the cash grants to more than 2,000 of Kilis’s most vulnerable families, C.R.S. was creating child-friendly spaces in the area, where refugee children will be able to spend time with each other under the guidance of trained staff in facilities that provide social activities, such as art, dance, games, reading, sports and theater.

“We need to realize that aid that comes out of the United States, like C.R.S., can make a huge impact,” Bishop Kicanas said, adding “it changes attitudes.”

He cited the example of a man he met while visiting a Kilis post office where some of the cash grants were being distributed.

“The man in charge of the post office expressed that he’d always been uneasy about Americans and their intentions, but that seeing this helped him see Americans as people with hearts,” Bishop Kicanas recounted.

After visiting one of the Turkish government-run camps, he praised Turkey for its aid to the tens of thousands of Syrians living in them. But he said local Turkish officials admitted to “having a hard time” meeting the needs of the growing number of refugees crossing into the country to escape the continued warfare in Syria.

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Tags: Syria Refugees Syrian Civil War Turkey Relief