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19.01.2022 | Blog

Refugees in the Big City

532,000 people from Syria live in Istanbul. One of them is Fatima. After a long journey, she has been working in a café for eight months.

Porträtfoto von Fatima Hassan
Fatima Hassan was an English teacher in Syria. After fleeing to Turkey, this was no longer possible. Now she works in a café © Welthungerhilfe

Istanbul is a city of nearly 16 million people, including more than 532,000 Syrians who have fled the ongoing conflict in their home country. The streets are noisy, cars clog the roads, horns sound.

Oasis of Calm in the City Bustle

On a quiet side street is a small café run by the Şişli municipality. Through the large windows, you can see some women preparing cakes, pastries and savory dishes. Fatima is one of these women. She has been working here for eight months. "Suddenly there was war in Syria. I was faced with a very difficult decision: should I stay in the war or leave and start everything all over again?" says Fatima in a broken but firm voice. The memories still hurt. 

Drei Frauen befüllen Teigtaschen, Türkei 2021.
The three women prepare pastries for sale in the café. © Welthungerhilfe

A Difficult Decision

On July 30, 2013, Fatima, who worked as an English teacher in Syria, and her two married sisters decided to move with their families to Antakya in Türkiye's Hatay province. The province shares its borders and culture with Syria, and many members of the community speak Arabic. But Fatima could not entertain the idea of staying with her sisters - without work. She was already aware at the time that her chances of becoming an English teacher were slim. Her Turkish language skills were not enough to get hired at a school. So she took jobs for which she was overqualified. But the money was not enough, and Fatima made another brave decision. She went to Istanbul.

More than 5.6 million Syrians have fled abroad, most of them to neighboring countries.

This decision was not easy for her, because she knew that the job market in Istanbul is bigger, but also highly competitive. Her age and a lack of a work permit for Istanbul are two big hurdles she had to overcome. But even that didn't stop her from pursuing her dream.

In the early days in Istanbul, Fatima tried in vain to get support from various organizations. She needed a permanent job to apply for a work permit and a residence permit in Istanbul - the first step towards her dream. But most organizations could not help her. No job without a work permit. Applying for a work permit without a permanent job was hopeless.

Auf einem Tablett liegen gefüllte Teigtaschen, Türkei 2021.
With the promise of the job in a café, Fatima finally got a work permit. © Welthungerhilfe

A Ray of Hope for Refugee Women from Syria

"One day my friend and neighbor told me that a German organization supported them. After an initial conversation, they decided to follow up on my case and try to solve my work permit problem. It was the first time that someone listened to me and took my situation seriously," Fatima explains. Almost a year later, the long-awaited call came. The Şişli municipality started a project for Syrian refugees - they were looking for women, with experience and passion for cooking.

Eine Frau bei der Zubereitung von Gebäck, Türkei 2021.
Fatima is optimistic about the future. She dreams of having her own translation agency. © Welthungerhilfe

"My case worker received the information from the city administration and then contacted me directly. Of course, I didn't hesitate and applied right away. Yes, it has nothing to do with the English language, but it is a job I like to do. For the people in Aleppo, food is very important and plays a big role. I'm really happy about this opportunity," she explains as she offers another cup of tea.

Fatima is Hopeful about the Future 

Two months ago, Fatima was finally able to get her work permit and her residence permit for Istanbul. "The moment I received the work permit, I called my case worker and told her the good news. I am so happy that I can find work now. The work here is good, but my goal is still to work as an English teacher or interpreter. Any job where I can speak English. My dream is to go to Europe and open a translation agency - Arabic-English and vice versa. The first step towards realization is done. I can work and I will realize my dream," she says with a broad smile.

How Welthungerhilfe Helps In Türkiye

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