REFUGEE CAMP – Supporting Families for Survival
“I love Turkey & the Turkish People and strongly recommend traveling there.” – Chimu
BACKGROUND FOR OUR SELECTION OF UIGHURS: The Inti Raymi Fund arrived in Turkey with the intention of supporting, what appeared to be a great social cause which appeared to be supported by the people and government of Turkey. The Chinese Uighurs reportedly sought Political Asylum through an illegal human trafficking route into southern Thailand. Upon realizing the whereabouts of the Uighurs by the Chinese government, the Uighurs were “flushed out” by the public and private sector in Thailand at the behest of the Chinese Government. Upon becoming aware of this, the Turkish Government claimed these political asylum refugees as related peoples to the late Ottoman Empire and Turkish Bloodline. This emotional support by the Turkish Government and backed up my multiple internet articles, led us to empathize and want to support a cause which was near and dear to the Turkish People – The Religious Freedom of Islamic Refugees from China. This all seemed to make sense to us, help the Uighurs who were reportedly Political Asylum Refugees on the run, and at the same time, help Turkey who is carrying this financial and emotional burden.
The Inti Raymi Fund researched and found numerous articles on line in advance in support of our mission. This research led us to a large city in the central part of Turkey, which received these refugees. At the same time this is going on, the Turkish Government had been incredibly gracious accepting roughly 1 million Syrian & Iraqi Refugees from the ongoing war in the regions in southern Turkey. We truly believed that if we helped with this slightly smaller Refugee Crisis, that it would directly help the people and indirectly help if we could complete a project and spread awareness of this great cause, which could bring in more donors and foreign aid.
ARRIVAL INTO UIGHUR REFUGEE APARTMENTS: We spend the better part of our first morning driving around asking taxi drivers, locals, the trash collectors, and even the police department to help us locate this infamous housing complex which we read so much about. After 2-3 hours driving back and forth around town, we arrived at our destination. Immediately, we knew we were in the right spot when we noticed the Chinese women wearing traditional Muslim clothing and the men were clearly different looking from the traditional Turkish men in the town. Upon arrival, we were greeted by four less than friendly humanitarian workers who were taking care of this mini-refugee camp housed in three older apartment buildings. Immediately, this helping project turned into an interrogation of sorts, wondering why were were here and why we are trying to help these people. We honestly could not understand their negative unwillingness to help refugees in a humanitarian crisis especially since they were working/helping there. After taking our passport information, photographing our taxi’s license plates, and informing us that we needed legal papers of approval from the nation’s capital, AND that they would NOT give approval to us, we because very confused and saddened that we came all this way to Turkey to help people, who we believed the Turkish felt important enough to help, but wouldn’t let us do “something”, “anything”. This was very confusing at best.
Upon being turned away and being offended and bewildered we had to figure out what to do next? One of our best attributes within the Inti Raymi Fund is our organization’s tenacity and determination to help others in need. Accordingly, we immediately went into “plan B”. Remembering what we learned in Jordan about the overwhelming ratios of 15% of the refugees living inside the formal camps, with the mass majority of 85% outside these camps, we knew there must must an abundance of Uighur Refugees living among the Turkish Peoples who certainly must need some form of help. Driven by the purest intention to help, and knowing these statistics, we put on the brakes of the taxi and decided to visit a nearby mini-grocery store nearby to inquire about Uighurs who were living among the peoples. Refugees living among Host Families would not be receiving the financial support for food and clothing which the Refugee Camps provide through international agencies of the government.
SECRET AGENTS ROUND US UP: Within 5 minutes of our innocent inquiries about the Uighurs with the woman in the grocery store, we were surrounded by the original grumpy men at the Uighur Apartments and about 11 more undercover agents arriving in six marked and unmarked police vehicles. Upon arrival of each progressive vehicle, speaking in Turkish which we didn’t understand, they kept talking and discussing our internet research papers which clearly shows a grieving Uighur woman with her tiny hopeless son crying. This image appears to show stress from their long journey to the safety of Turkey. Who wouldn’t want to help these people if you are in the humanitarian line of work, right? Well as the men came in they kept asking us over and over, “Why did you come here?” Why do you want to help them?” “Where did you get this information about the Uighurs?” “Where do you get your money?” This interrogation went on for roughly 2-3 hours in front of the grocery store. Our only comfort was knowing that we had the “purest of intent” and had done nothing wrong. Additionally, we were comforted that there were many high-rise apartment complexes within view so “hopefully the public was witnessing this polite, but nerve racking interrogation by these Secret Police or National Agents and were filming the incident. My father always taught me that… “The great thing about always telling the truth, is that the truth never changes”. Over and over and over for several hours these men were waiting for us to say something different or bad, which would incriminate us for doing something wrong as it relates to the Uighurs.
At one point it became very cordial with us sharing personal photos with numerous agents and getting selfi-photos with them since I am covered in tattoos and they found that amusing. The lead agent was on an off the phone communicating with his supervisor, who simply could not believe someone from America would come and help the Uighurs from an internet articles which I apparently was censored from public view in Turkey. There appeared to be even greater curiosity of “how we found these articles”. We later found out that the Turkish Government sensors certain information on the internet, including our Inti Raymi Fund which we found was BLOCKED in the country of Turkey.
After several hours in the sun being questioned, the lead agent told us “we were in a lot of trouble”, but 15 minutes later, he said he believed us and this continued interrogation would be cleared up in about 30 minutes, but we needed to go. Knowing we were heading to the police station, still knowing we did nothing wrong, allowed us to remain calm until certain telling comments were made in the car on the way to the police station by the lead agent regarding us trying to cover all our basis, and trying to camouflage our real intentions in Turkey in helping the Uighurs. This appeared to be heading for an entrapment train wreck.
IN THE POKEY: We ended up spending another 2-3 hours in the lead agents office being asked more questions and being observed by various other undercover agents, and a local psychologist, all with the intention of trying to catch us possibly acting guilty or behaving in some suspicious manner. When anyone is accused of something which they did not do in a foreign country, that would lead someone to normally act a bit nervous or different; however, I don’t think they realized who they as were laughing and telling stories of our other adventures in other countries and discussing our favorite movies in the presence of their trained observers. Long story short, the agents got tired of us laughing with smiles on our faces and having a great time in the lockup, they realized they made a mistake bringing us in, then decided to let us go.
FREEDOM AT A COST: After an entire day was taken away from us to start our project, we were released; however, we certainly felt we were being followed and watched for the rest of our time in this region. Half normal paranoia from being falsely accused of something we’ll never know, and the other half being a legitimate concern for the unknown. We later “put two and two together” after our ordeal and deduced that these agents falsely assumed that we were ISIS recruiters in the Uigher Camp, trying to recruit terrorists. This was an absurd assertion, given the fact that our mission and organization is exactly opposite this, by coming to help in the region. Understandably, this region and it’s protective resources are on high alert after their recent restart of a civil war and joining the International War on ISIS. They were actually just doing their job and there was a huge misunderstanding.
A NEW BEGINNING & PROJECT THE NEXT MORNING:
NEW CITY – NEW START: With a day taken away from us and not being able to touch the Uighur situation at all, we heading out early the next morning in search of another great project to support while we were in Turkey. This brings up a great point. Many people ask me “Chimu, how do you find your projects?”. Well as you follow this story, you will realize that I’m not brilliant, just observant and compassionate. We proceeded in search and asked a number of people about the local Syrian War Refugee situation within this semi-isolated community of Cappadocia. This region of Turkey is famous for tourism and specifically hot air ballooning over their lunar style topography. Ironically, this beautiful surreal community was where my wife and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary only about six weeks earlier. We had a fantastic holiday there and suggest this to everyones “Bucket List”.
Knowing that locals in a small town know everything, led us to the local Turkish Rug Store. Based upon the owners’ suggestion of a small unofficial refugee camp which appeared to not be receiving any federal funding or non-profit support. Upon arrival to this make shift tarp camp of refugees, we instinctively knew these people needed help, and it was obvious. Again, we’re not brilliant, we simple search and keep our eyes open for opportunities to help in the world.
The Inti Raymi Fund had a bilingual partner with us who is fluent in English and Arabic. This proved invaluable with our communication within the camp of 120 people Arab speakers. We soon realized that this camp was slightly unique with roughly one half of the residents being of Turkish Arab descent and the other half being Syrian Arab descent. This Arab connection and familial connection across the international boundary lines of Syria & Turkey was the catalyst for the creation of this particular camp. The Syrians of this camp sought refuge in Turkey at various times during the Syrian War and from various exit points from Syria. Their families within this region of Turkey, received them and were nomadic in nature, living as Beduins off of the land and periodically moving as necessity dictates from place to place.
UNDERSTANDING WHO WE’RE HELPING: After many hours of dialogue, we had a very good understanding of their lives, past and present and more importantly their current Urgent and Important needs for Survival during this war time. We offered up a myriad of ideas for them to consider, such as school supplies, computers, cell phones for migration, food & water sanitation devices, clothing, new tents for the frigid winter months, sleeping bags, vehicles for transportation to local food markets or migration, etc. As a westerner, these may all seem like logical items or even a new school which was in their reach with their $25,000 budget. Well, upon learning and understanding their nomadic culture and lifestyle, where their children do not even attend nor do they really need a Western Education to herd sheep or farm, we realized we must as always give them the Respect and Dignity to take care of themselves as they see is best, forgetting what we think is best. I know, this is hard to accept as you read this.
The community revealed to us that of the 120 people, roughly 25 were adult men, 25 were adult women with the remaining 70 being their children. Given the culture of these peoples, the husbands are the only bread winners of the home with the women staying home to care for the tent and children all day. The roughly 25 men therefore were the only source of income for this entire camp of 120 people, extending themselves as a community very thin. We also learned that there is only seasonal farming work for these men who did work. During their limited farming work seasons, a day consists of showing up for work at 6:00am, with only a handful of the strongest men selected on a regular basis offering only $10 for 10 hours of manual farm labor or $1/hour. These figures explain how precious our Inti Raymi Fund’s $25,000 cash infusion into the community really is. This sharing is very rewarding for us as well.
WHAT DO YOU NEED? HOW CAN WE HELP? With the hand to mouth obvious needs for survival today, and considering their upcoming winter, the overwhelming votes from the roughly 25 adult men and 25 adult women was to evenly distribute the cash among all 120 people trying to survive in their camp. This $25,000 gift translated into $208.33/person which is an immense amount of new capital breathing life into families who’s fathers’ daily wages amount to less than $1/hour, if they can find work during peak farming seasons. Each member had the same but different sense of urgency with some of young males considering the arduous migrate to Germany or elsewhere, mothers seeking warm blankets for the upcoming winter. Everyone needed new tarps for their makeshift tent structures which were wind whipped and tattered. Fresh bottles for water, medicine and a doctors visit for a sick child had been out of reach before our visit and support. If you want to see what an impact this cash infusion had on the lives of the people we helped, simply look at their faces during and after our project in our photo collection. We don’t work miracles; however, we know we are effective, because 100% of our money is delivered by me into the hands of the recipients. In our opinion, when there are urgent and important needs, this approach is far more effective than giving funds to a government to distribute on your behalf. Far too many people in the governments around the world are in line to siphon off their share, leaving nothing left for those initially intended to support.
We departed this community with a sense of calm and happiness, knowing we helped 120 people in the best possible way we could, allowing them the Dignity and Respect to pursue their destiny as they see fit.
We hope you enjoyed emotionally traveling and experiencing our chaos and eventual successful project we completed in Turkey.
Start Date: September 2015
Completion Date: September 2015
Funded so far: $25,000 USD
Total Project: $25,000 USD
Lives Affected: 120
Chimu, Elias & Anas