Protecting refugee women and children on the Turkish border

By Global Fund for Children | March 17, 2020 | Europe & Eurasia | Education, Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity

As the number of refugees along the Turkish border grows, one organization is providing both emergency relief and long-term support to the children and women who need it most.

In this guest blog post, Mavi Kalem – a Global Fund for Children partner and 2019 Juliette Gimon Courage Award winner – explains its work to help refugee women and children learn their rights and start a new life in Turkey.

Thousands of Afghan, Iranian, Senegalese, and Syrian refugees have been traveling to the western border of Turkey since February 28, after hearing news that Turkey’s border with Europe had opened.

When refugees were not permitted to cross the border into Greece, they began gathering at an empty field in Edirne, Turkey, at the Pazarkule border crossing. The population has been increasing there and in other areas around the border since the end of February.

A team of three people from Mavi Kalem went to Pazarkule on February 29 to assess the situation and current needs – especially those of women and children.

A large group of people stand in line along an asphalt road.
Mavi Kalem's team visits the Pazarkule border crossing. © Mavi Kalem

After the first 48 hours, the team reported the following:

As the crowd got bigger every day, there were an increasing number of women and children among the newcomers to Pazarkule. Because the border area was a transition area, it did not have sufficient conditions for sheltering refugees. People in the area were staying on cold, wet ground in changing weather conditions.

The need for materials to protect refugees from the cold and rain was continuous. They needed more drinking water and ready-to-eat food packages. Groups such as babies, children, the elderly, and pregnant women also needed special support. Since then, basic humanitarian needs have been increasing at the gathering place.

As long as the Mavi Kalem team remained in the field, they actively participated in ongoing humanitarian aid work. The organization provided materials such as high-calorie food, sanitary pads, diapers, wet wipes, and baby food.

Mavi Kalem has worked in coordination with the Edirne Provincial Migration Directorate, Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM), Social Cooperation and Solidarity Foundation, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the area.

The Mavi Kalem team left the area on the evening of March 2. They continue to monitor the process by following the changing needs of the population and the conditions in the field, planning their work accordingly.

Mavi Kalem is an association in Turkey that provides social support, especially to women and children and in emergency situations. Started in 2000 by a group of volunteers, it worked exclusively with volunteers for 15 years. The organization continues to preserve its values of volunteerism and social connection today.

Four girls pose for a photo, two facing the camera and two with their backs to the camera. They wear shirts that say "-18Çocuktur."
Girl participants in Mavi Kalem's Under 18 Is A Child campaign. © Mavi Kalem

This is why it is so important for Mavi Kalem to be present in the field to support other members of its community.

During it 20-year history, Mavi Kalem has worked both with women and children from Turkey and with refugees from other countries. It has coordinated emergency response, increased school attendance, hosted children’s arts and sports activities, promoted women’s health, prevented gender-based violence, and helped refugee women and children adapt to a new life in Turkey. In addition to working directly with the community, Mavi Kalem strengthens its impact through complementary research and advocacy.

Mavi Kalem’s current work focuses on carrying out holistic child protection in Istanbul, Gebze, and Adana, and on running a Women’s Consultation and Solidarity Center in Istanbul.

An example of the organization’s work with children includes its empowerment workshops for 12- to 17-year-old Syrian girls. The organization created the program for Syrian girls in 2018 by translating and adapting workshops it had previously implemented with Turkish girls.

The series of workshops help raise girls’ awareness and encourage them to think about issues such as adolescence and their bodies, sex and gender, physical and psychological health, healthy sexuality, violence, and abuse. In these workshops, the girls are also encouraged to share what they have learned with their peers. Last year, Mavi Kalem held over 50 workshop series with Syrian girls across Turkey. The workshops will be implemented again this year.

A group of girls sit on the floor around a large canvas, intently using colored paint to fill in a complex black-and-white outline with a woman's face, houses, and trees.
Girls carry out an art activity as part of Mavi Kalem's series of girls' empowerment workshops. © Mavi Kalem

Mavi Kalem also recognizes that to truly empower refugee children, it takes the entire community.

In addition to working directly with children, the organization strives to create healthy environments where children can grow and thrive. Mavi Kalem believes that work with adult men and women can help create more supportive families and societies for refugee children.

For example, Mavi Kalem developed a series of workshops together with Syrian refugee men to promote women’s empowerment. Themes of discussion include preventing gender-based violence, parenting, women’s participation in the workforce, and gender equality.

Learn more about Mavi Kalem’s work here, and find out how to donate here.

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