Syrian refugees find a ‘miserable’ existence in Turkey

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ISTANBUL — Nawwar Munim Diab is a slender, shy 11-year-old girl whose skin is slightly sunburned from the long hours she spends on a street selling bottled water.

She has been selling water to help her family make ends meet after they fled Daara, Syria, when their home was destroyed by a barrel bomb seven months ago. A nearby school was the target of the bomb, she says.

“I passed the fourth grade and made it to the fifth,” she says. “I wish I could go back to school.”

Her mother, Um Ahmed, sits nearby in the shade watching over Nawwar’s youngest brother, Abdulkarim, 8, as he plays in the dirt. “He’s too young to work,” Nawwar says, watching. Her older sister, Islam, 17, passed the 11th grade but won’t be going to the 12th, her mother says.

“We are poor, and everything is expensive here,” she says. “My ears ache since our home was bombarded. My husband is sick, and I have saved every penny to bring him here from Syria with smugglers” a few weeks ago. She says her sons, 14 and 17, are injured, and she has no more money to pay the smugglers to bring them from Syria.

“Our situation is miserable,” she says. “The municipality is after us, too. Two days ago, they confiscated our water and left me crying.”

The family pays $670 for a room where 35 children, five women and four young men live, Um Ahmed says. That is better than the alternative: muddy and cold refugee camps where tents are sometimes blown away in storms, diseases spread easily and lines for communal bathrooms are long.

“Even if study was free, I can’t send them to schools. We have to earn our livings because life is expensive here,” she says.