The Alkhalil family was living in Syria when ISIS laid siege to their town. There was no food, water, or electricity for 6 months. When their second daughter was born very prematurely, Okba and his wife Rana knew they had to flee to keep her alive. Okba explains:
My mother was severely weakened by the siege; she lost thirty pounds. We left Syria together with our two baby daughters, my mother and my handicapped sister to join my brother in Izmir, Turkey. Shortly after we arrived my brother went back to Syria to sell our house in Damascus, but he was arrested by the army and we have not heard from him since. My mother made it to Turkey but passed away after one month; we buried her in Izmir.
We thought life might be better in Europe so we paid a smuggler to help us cross the sea to Greece. We came so close to death during the crossing; when we survived it we felt hopeful, we thought we could finally start a new life.
But life was even harder there. I had never lived in a refugee camp before. We stayed in there for six months. There were 1500 people crammed into a space made for 900, only three bathrooms for everyone to share and no light for safety during the night. Families shared small cabins and tents with no cooking facilities or electricity. There were rats and snakes; the camp felt very dangerous, with violence between different factions and occasional attacks by members of fascist groups. My children got sick and needed to be hospitalized. We faced discrimination and saw hatred towards refugees. And after suffering through all this, our asylum request was denied. We felt defeated. Instead of appealing this decision as most others were doing, and facing yet more months of uncertainty, we thought we might be better off returning to Turkey where I thought I could perhaps find some work.
Once in Turkey, we waited several weeks to get papers near the border with Aleppo, and then settled in Izmir. I have a degree in business administration from the University of Damascus. But the only work I have been able to get as a Syrian refugee here requires me to spend thirteen hours per day in the fields in return for 45 Turkish liras, or $12 per day.
This is so much less than the bare minimum we need to survive. We have been unable to get winter clothing, adequate food, diapers, or the medicine that our 1-year old requires for her chronic respiratory condition. My wife was pregnant but recently lost the baby. Our situation has truly become critical. We have tried so hard to remain positive but the hope that we felt in making the decision to return to Turkey has faded. I feel that we are slowly dying in Turkey as we did in Greece, and it is difficult to know what next steps to take in order to make a better life for our girls. We are afraid for the future.