What does the Syrian refugee crisis look like on the ground? As part of ISD’s Distinguished Practitioners Series, on April 7 ISD State Department Fellow Ramon Escobar shared his experiences meeting with refugees and humanitarian organizations this spring. Ramon traveled to Berlin, Lesvos, and Turkey in March 2016 to talk with refugees about their choice to abandon their homes and livelihoods – risking everything to reach safety beyond Syria’s borders.
In Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey, 50,000 Syrian refugees live in camps, while perhaps 300,000 more live in crowded conditions in the city. Ramon met with a former dentist who had been repeatedly detained and tortured in Syria, until finally she left for Turkey. Unable to work legally or send their children to school, Gaziantep’s refugee population remained relatively safe, though without much prospect of future employment.
On Lesvos, an island less than three miles from the Turkish coast, Ramon spent some time working with an NGO staffed by Arab-speaking volunteers, who were able to communicate with and help many of the hundreds of refugees arriving by boat each night that spring. He noted the silent and shocked faces of children that had endured great trauma in their lives. Lesvos at the time was a primary transit stop for many refugees seeking asylum in the countries of northern Europe. The local Greek community was very supportive of the refugees, who at that point tended to move on quickly towards Athens and then the Greek border, en route to Germany, Sweden, and other Western European countries.
While in Berlin, Ramon visited the refugee processing centers, where he saw first hand the tremendous resources and efforts of the German government and civil society organizations to receive and settle the thousands of Syrian refugees. Ramon also learned from German foreign ministry officials about the vexing geopolitical challenges that make it difficult to find a durable regional solution to the refugee crisis.
By sharing his experiences with the Georgetown community, Ramon hoped to put a human face on the sheer numbers of refugees – each of whom has a story.