Syrian Exodus - Chapter two: Born in exile

This is the second chapter of the Syrian Exodus, an MSF multimedia project to follow the route of Syrians fleeing the war. See chapter one and three.

Zein al sham was born in Istanbul on 25 June 2013. Her parents are Syrian refugees. “When she was born, we were told to go to the Syrian consulate so she could get a passport. The consulate informed us that we needed to wait for six months and pay 300 euros to get it. We don’t have that money,” says Hassan Nasser, the baby’s father. The Syrian passport is a prerequisite for her to acquire a Turkish residence permit. So far, she has neither of these two documents.

Hassan’s life has changed in the span of half a year. In May, he was living in a basement flat together with his wife and three children. Now, the place looks smaller and gloomier, because there are now thirteen people living there – last summer, his cousin and his family moved in after fleeing Egypt, where the security forces broke into his house. “We don’t have financial resources. Yesterday I had to ask a Syrian in the neighbourhood for money. It’s a loan: I must give it back to him,” he sighs.

The family can’t pay the rent. They have been asked to leave the place by the end of December. Hassan can’t work, mainly because he injured his back when he jumped from a third floor while escaping from the Syrian security forces in 2011. He took refuge in Turkey, where he received psychological treatment in a specialised project supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in collaboration with the Turkish NGO Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA). He now goes to a hospital in his neighbourhood, where he is still being tested to determine whether he needs to undergo surgery to fix his back problems. His wait continues and he still finds it difficult to walk.

Distressed, Hassan claims not to have any plans for the future. His problems are piling up at the basement flat and his physical pain goes on. Nostalgia seems to be his only escape route. “Every day I watch TV to see what’s going on in Syria,” he says. Hassan often talks via Skype with his mother, who’s still in Syria. She has only seen her new granddaughter, Zein al sham, on a computer screen.

“I am sad because my brothers and my mother always ask for the baby and haven’t been able to meet her in person,” complains Hassan. The bombs are burying the family’s hope to go back home. Moving on to another country doesn’t seem a viable option right now. For now, they are facing a troubling existence in Istanbul.

“I feel sad,” says Hassan while looking at his newborn baby. “But even if over time we got Turkish nationality, we would never drop the Syrian one, because that’s our origin.”


In Turkey, MSF is supporting, in collaboration with the local NGO Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA), a clinic with an average of 170 monthly consultations and a mental health project for Syrian refugees in the city of Kilis.