Refugee situation: ‘So that they don’t grow up as a lost generation’

21.03.2016 – Millions of people have fled to Turkey and Iraq since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Carl Taestensen is working for GIZ in the region and reports on the provision of support for refugees and host communities.

Mr Taestensen, the situation in northern Syria has intensified dramatically once again, with tens of thousands of people having fled across the borders. What is GIZ doing to help those stranded there?
Carl Taestensen: Let’s begin by talking about Turkey, where we are primarily supporting the host communities. It is in these communities that ninety per cent of the 2.5 million or so refugees in the country are living, with only around ten per cent having found accommodation in refugee camps. Turkey is doing an exemplary job of looking after these people, for example by ensuring that children go to school in order to improve their chances of integration. But the communities also need to be able to cope with this task, which is why we are supporting them with German Government funding and through our activities.

In northern Iraq, GIZ is principally working in refugee camps, with a focus on Dohuk. The challenges are wide ranging. We are providing emergency aid and ensuring, for example, that the refugees stay dry and warm throughout the cold winter and that they receive medical assistance. I recently met a father carrying his son in his arms as he fled. The son had suffered a severe back injury. We have set up mobile clinics to provide first aid to such individuals before they are referred on to hospital. The region’s hospitals are under tremendous strain, which is why we are supporting their accident and emergency departments. Another key aspect of our work in camps such as Dohuk is the provision of psychosocial counselling for refugees. We must do all we can to alleviate the emotional anguish and trauma that these people are going through. Even so, it is a tragic fact that their experiences will remain with them their whole lives.

People often have to endure many years in and around refugee camps. What can you do to prevent hundreds of thousands of people heading for Europe?
Propects are key to determining whether people stay where they are or – sometimes in the face of great risk – head on to somewhere new, such as Europe. For families, having prospects means first and foremost being able to send their children to school so that they don’t grow up as a ‘lost generation’. Consequently, we place particular emphasis on promoting school education for children.
It is also the case that many refugees are unable to find jobs. This is a crucial issue, as they want to work, not to become dependent. We are therefore funding short-term training initiatives to first help these people find employment. Then, when they return to their homes, their qualifications will equip them to rebuild their country and build a future there.

But what if these people are unable to return because their livelihoods have been destroyed?
We are currently examining what we can do next to enable us to continue supporting refugees once they have returned to their own countries. After all, we know that, in many areas, the main challenges only begin once people return and find their homes completely destroyed, as we sometimes see them in media reports about Syria. Many regions will be virtually uninhabitable as they are still littered with mines, which pose far too great a risk – especially to families with children. Making the country inhabitable once more will also be a task for the international community.