Refugees: More than a Word

By Selen Irem Armağan (Özyeğin University)

I am undergraduate psychology student at Ozyegin University, and I would like to tell you about my experience working with Dr. Susan Rottmann as one of her research assistants.  Over the past few months, I accompanied Dr. Rottmann to some interviews with refugees and non-governmental ogranizations, and I learned so much about the realities of migrants’ lives.  Before the RESPOND Project, I was not aware of refugees’ needs and requirements. I was thinking that the Turkish government and non-governmental organizations were totally covering their needs, giving them money or ensuring their living requirements like housing, clothing, food, etc. Now, I have seen the reality of their survival struggles.  Their stories were thrown into my face. In Turkey, there are many myths about Syrian migrants.[1]  For example, people think that they are taking money from different organizations, not working to earn money and not registering for university exams.  Before assisting with this research, I also believed these myths. Nothing is like what we have heard on TV and read in the newspapers.

After attending interviews with refugees, I have to say that my all of judgments and thoughts about them were changed. I realized that it is very easy to sit in judgment toward people who are not living similar to us or who do not have the same living standards.  It is very easy to think, imagine or believe something bad about them, never asking any questions and just believing what we have read in books or newspapers or what we have heard from other people. I was able to see refugees’ reality and had an opportunity to listen to their stories. War is a human-made natural disaster. The dictionary definition of natural disaster is a natural event like an earthquake that kills lots of people. The word ‘human-made’ refers to events that are made by humans like war, which also kills many people.

I saw the hopelessness, sadness, happiness and hope for the future at the same time on refugees’ faces while we were interviewing. They face discrimination and judgment, but they were thankful to Turkey and Turkish citizens. People have to be empathetic.  They need to put themselves in the position of refugees and imagine being without knowledge of the language or a job, being alone without your family and trying to survive in a foreign country.  Can it be easy? We need to accept them and try to integrate them with Turkish culture and citizens, because there are lots of areas that we can share with them. 

Talking with NGOs was also very enlightening.  The process of crossing the border was one of most interesting areas to learn about for me.  Refugees are not crossing the border easily. Especially women’s and the children’s experiences of border crossing are really hard. They are a vulnerable group. We learned that women are going to many public service programs to learn new skills so that they can work and earn money. Also, NGOs are supporting children to learn the language and to continue in schools or universities. We were happy to learn that these organizations are helping and supporting refugees.

My future plans have been shaped by RESPOND. After listening to all the stories about the hard survival moments that women and children have faced, I realized that I must do something for them in the future. As a psychologist, I can work on healing their traumas and remind them of their strength. Children are especially in need of treatments and psychological supports because after war, many face post-traumatic stress disorder and need help. This project reminded me of the importance of hope, even if you have experienced many bad things, hope keeps you alive and helps you to cope with everything.

[1] Turkish speakers may examine this website, which debunks common myths about Syrian refugees in Turkey:

Susan Rottmann and Selen Irem Armağan (right)

Susan Rottmann and Selen Irem Armağan (right)