Malak Touma

Freelance journalist

I am a freelance journalist and vice president of the Syrian community in Gaziantep. I graduated with a master’s degree in international relations in Turkey.

I work in advocacy, dealing with Turkish government agencies on legal, health, and immigration issues, among others. My main field of expertise is peace building and I have never worked in the relief field.

From the first days of the disaster, we launched a call for volunteers. A team of 20 relief volunteers was formed, working in shifts, putting evacuation services in contact with each other, receiving and distributing remittances, and cooking and distributing food. The team is active at all levels. At the same time, I personally took it on myself to continue appearing in the media and give briefings on the development of the situation. In past circumstances, political action had a role and influence in response and coordination.

Among the most critical places today are Al-Jumhuriyat and Khairbayir – the slums and surrounding suburbs of Gaziantep – as they are in a state of major collapse. The Syrian population in these areas is very dense, and their inability to access urgent information due to language leads to poor access to response services.

There is no clear data about Syrians in Turkey yet, but the need is huge. The data collection tool in Gaziantep is “the telephone”! The most pressing need today is for us to know the where women are so that we can deliver their addresses to the volunteer teams that distribute food, infant formula, diapers and medicine. And most of the time, we will find this information out through Facebook, WhatsApp, and personal networks.

Women were greatly affected, and the impact worsened their economic conditions, as they had not had the opportunity to save and were taken completely by surprise by what happened. The percentages of widows and single mothers are high. There is no data available, but numbers are very high. Now many women have lost their breadwinner and source of livelihood.

Women are living as they were at the beginning of the displacement from Aleppo, several families in one house and no work. Some women said that for them the tent is more private than being in a room with three families. There are couples who had separated that came back together in the same house to stay with the children. We are deeply worried about domestic violence and the trauma associated with being in the same physical space after separation.

The displaced are still drinking tap water, despite the Turkish government’s public statement and warning of pollution due to the poor economic conditions. 10 liters of water per family per day means 600 pounds per month, which families cannot afford.

The survivors in the city of Antakya went to Reyhanli, Son Dagh, and Karkhan, to find themselves in tragic living conditions. Prior to the earthquake, the presence of civil society in Antakya was weak, making it difficult to gauge the damage and urgent needs. Some of the youth working on the ground state that these villages have high rates of isolated women who lost their families in this earthquake.

The current need in Turkey is immense. Mainly we need:

  • To equip camps and shelters with sanitary facilities suitable for women, with a focus on women who have recently given birth, women with special needs and the elderly.
  • To protect women from violence and sexual exploitation.
  • To facilitate currency transfer procedures. Western Union sometimes takes three days, which is a long time given the urgent nature of the situation.
  • To allocate special support for the Syrians in Turkey in the international response.
  • To finance medical loans and small loans for rapid economic recovery.
  • To protect Syrians from the danger of deportation to Syria.
  • To enact gender-sensitive psychological response programs that take into account the language barrier.
  • To focus on strategic, not consumer, support for housing, health and return to work.
  • To include Syrians, especially non-naturalized Syrians, in Turkish re-housing plans.