Syrian refugee in Turkish camp dreams of Cork return


Aisha Bisso visited her brother in Cork before Syria erupted. Now she wants to go back, writes SEAMUS MIRODAN

IN CONTAINER G23 of the Kilis refugee camp on Turkey’s border with Syria, Aisha Bisso is dreaming of Ireland.

“I saw the greenest things there. I love the peace and quiet and the way the snow hugs the mountains,” she says of her previous visit to Cork in 2010, before her own country, Syria, descended into a chaotic and bloody civil war.

Aisha’s brother Rami has lived and worked as a barber in Cork for the past 12 years, and she is hoping to visit him again soon.

“He always liked Ireland from the movies he saw; he loved the music, the atmosphere and the countryside,” Aisha says.

Rami needs to have an operation on a slipped disc and Aisha hopes to take another trip in order to be with her brother while he undergoes surgery.

But she admits to just a little self-interest in her decision too. “I just felt so at peace in Ireland. The people were so wonderful. All I can think of is getting away and being there again.”

And, indeed, Aisha has been through a period in her life few residents of the south of Ireland can relate to.

In January this year, Syrian government agents arrived at Aisha’s house in Latakia, northern Syria, looking for her husband. That very night he escaped over the border to Turkey, leaving his wife alone at home with her two young sons.

In the three months that followed, the police knocked down her front door on two occasions, before Aisha could bear the terror no longer and finally also headed for the border and life in a Turkish refugee camp.

Her only reminder of Ireland in the prefab container she, her sons and her husband now call home is a Celtic bracelet which she holds up proudly. Her house in Latakia, however, was heavily adorned with souvenirs from her trip to Cork, Aisha says. “There are more Irish flags than Syrian ones in my home,” she claims.

She feels safe here in Kilis – “at least there’s no shelling and we want for nothing,” she says – but nonetheless this Syrian woman dreams of being back in Ireland. Two weeks ago she applied to the Irish Embassy in Ankara for a visa, hoping to escape once again and get some “peace and tranquillity” after her ordeal, however briefly. “The best thing about Ireland was the people. Men would even move out of the way when I walked down the street. That would never happen in Syria.” She remembers fondly how her brother’s neighbours threw her a welcome party on the day she arrived for her first visit two years ago, “even though they didn’t even know me!”

Like most others in the camp, Aisha still hopes she will return to her homeland, but signs of the conflict abating are few and far between. To make matters worse, those living in the camps are forbidden from working and must subsist on handouts from the Turkish state.

“We’re very grateful to Turkey, but it embarrasses me to live like this,” says olive farmer Abdul Kader Sahunni, one of Aisha’s neighbours in Kilis. Heads of families are provided with a prepaid credit card which they can use at a supermarket in the camp. They get 20 Turkish lira (€7) a week to spend per family member, which would be enough, Abdul Kader says, except “they are controlling the prices in the camp, making everything at least double. Last week I bought some lemons and they cost me nearly three times as much as on the outside. It’s a bit like giving with one hand and taking with the other.”

The latest addition to Abdul’s family is one-week-old Mohammed, who was born here, in the camp’s hospital. “This revolution is a bit like the olive tree,” Abdul Kader says. “It will take 40 years to harvest after planting the seeds. It is Mohammed and our children who will get to enjoy the fruits, not us.”