by Peter Francis Deck
In February 2020, just before Covid made it difficult to travel,
I was in Eastern Turkey visiting UN friends working in the region with Syrian refugees. A journalist friend who had worked with Syrians when reporting on the war situation arranged a dinner with the Hamza and Mustapha, two of his former colleagues now living as refugees in Antakya on the border with Syria. The next day Mustapha invited us to his apartment to meet his family.
Mustapha Saad Alden was a lawyer in Idlib Syria. He helped journalists and NGOs gather and report on information about human rights violations by the government authorities in his hometown and other locations involving persons detained by the government. He was targeted for arrest by the Syrian authorities so he had to flee with his wife and five kids to Turkey. He had been living in various refugee camps and apartments for the past five years near the border in Antakya. He continued to work helping with gathering information on human rights violations in Syria from refugees’ accounts and contacts he still had remaining in Syria. Like most refugees in Turkey, his situation was precarious as he could not legally work and provide for his family. Mustapha sought help through the UNHCR to be resettled in a third country. No longer constricted by UN procedures, I tried pushing Mustafa’s name with file number around UNHCR Turkey and Geneva to try and prioritize his resettlement application. The journalist’s friend helped through contacts in Canada to enable Mustapha to obtain a positive decision to go to Canada the waiting period was long, maybe a year or longer, but at least this was a positive step for Mustapha and his family. Mustapha spent years in Turkey living on handouts from the UN and other Aid providers. Then about a year later the Turkish government made a decision to grant permanent residency to many Syrian refugees, including Mustapha. He now had legal status in Turkey so he could legally work and eventually obtain Turkish citizenship. As a result. the Canadian government withdrew Mustapha’s family refugee resettlement position as they were no longer in need of international protection according to the UN Refugee Convention. Mustapha was still in a difficult situation but he was now able to find work and provide for his family. Along with other relatives from Syria, they found a flat in an apartment building on the 9th floor. When the 7.8 earthquakes hit Southern Turkey last Monday morning the apartment building collapsed like a house of cards. After three days some relatives of Mustapha were pulled from the rubble. Last night Mustapha, his wife, and his five children were found dead under the weight of the destroyed building.
How lucky we are to not live in a part of the world with so much turmoil.