The Promised Land

Yesterday on Social Media a photograph of a man standing on a shoreline sobbing whilst clinging onto his children made the rounds tugging on people’s heart strings and eliciting comments such as: ‘These images of migrants fleeing their war torn country really gets me’. Yep, it got me too. It got me worked into a complete frenzy of disbelief. There is so much misinformation out there regarding the migrant situation that it does my head in and I cannot believe that intelligent, educated people fall for this utter bonk. Can people not see that there is a campaign for the popular opinion which is currently being played out in the media? If you are like most of the people I encountered yesterday you will think that those who oppose the actions of the migrants are heartless, bigoted beasts who want to make sure that they have and do not care if others have not. On the other hand if you are one of those so considered heartless bigoted, beasts as I am you are against the unorganised, unmanaged, adversely affecting actions of a few global citizens who have decided that they deserve to live in a country of their choosing no questions asked. Of course one could say, and they would be correct, that most of these migrants especially those from Syria (oh, didn’t you realise that some are not fleeing anything but perceived poverty) have been forced from their homes by a horrible civil war and did not initially choose to leave their established lives and I would wholeheartedly agree, but let’s be clear here, no one is forcing them to Europe.

Before I continue with a review of the facts on the migrant situation which is my intention here, to dispel untruths and get back to reality, I want to say that I am not against anyone seeking out a better life. In fact, my paternal grandfather, after the Second World War, sat outside a British Military outpost office every hour of every day until the commanding officer told him: Mr. Galanov, I am truly sick of seeing your face. I will give you your papers to go to England. Off my grandfather went to Northern England where he, an aristocrat born, worked on a pig farm. He worked on that farm until he had enough money to send for my grandmother and father to join him. My father from the age of 12 grew up in Newcastle Upon Tyne and 12 years later having gotten his joiner papers hopped on a ship to Australia where he worked on the Space Station in Woomera. My father loved Australia and he had relatives there, so after four years he got his papers to immigrate and went home to see his parents and pack up his things. Back home, he decided to get a job and save some more money; during this time period he met my mother. They courted for some time before my father very romantically said to my mother: I am going to Australia, do you want to come? My mother replied that she would think about it, but did it have to be Australia? It was so far, what about Canada? Less than a year later my parents left for Canada with £200 in their pocket. To say that my parents worked their butts off to have a good life would be the understatement of the year. They did and they gave my sister and I the best life on offer. Years later when I moved to London, England my parents were hardly surprised, we Galanovs knew how to move around. I eventually married a Turk, who lived with me in London for a short time before we moved back to Bodrum, Turkey. I relay these personal historical facts because I want to make it clear that I am not against any form of migration because it is the story of my family. In fact, I am not against anything but opinions formed without the facts and here are the facts about migrants.

Firstly, unless you have lived under a rock for the past few years, you will know that there was a movement called the Arab Spring which succeeded in overthrowing the governments of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. It also started off unrest in other countries one of them being Syria. The Assad family is considered by some, to be a dictatorial force that need to be cut down so that the Syrian people can have true democracy. To that end, a veritable civil war started in the country with rebel forces pitted against the government. Into this melee, with no clear winner emerging, eventually crept a group of Islamic militants called ISIS. Now, most people accept that ISIS is funded by rich Sunni backers most notably from Kuwait. They also accept that many of Saddam Hussain’s ex-military men are top in the organisation which would account for their military victories. ISIS’ goal appears to be one of country forming. Specifically, they state that they are establishing an Islamic caliphate in the region, which is now in part of Northern Syria and Iraq. I do not have to go into what conditions in this new Islamic caliphate are like, because the entire world media has reported the seemingly inhumane practices of torture, rape, and murder that are daily occurrences. Speaking with those who have escaped across the border into Turkey from Syria, these reports are true. Most people decided to leave behind all that they knew because they feared for their lives and those of their loved one.

Syrians are fleeing over the border into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Turkey has already built 22 refugee camps and are building more because by the end of the year authorities expect that they will have welcomed almost 2 million refugees into the country. It is not only the Syrians who have started to seek shelter in Turkey because the county has seen an influx of Iraqi, Iranian and Afghani migrants too. Housing and helping the Syrians alone have already cost the country 1.6 billion EUROS, so you can imagine what the added cost of processing the almost 100,000 asylum cases is, not to mention the cost of the increased coast guard activity where I live, but I will get to that later. The point I am making here is that as those who commented on the poignant photograph of the migrant with his children failed to understand that Syrian father was not escaping from war, he already had escaped to Turkey where the government and citizens are doing everything they can to help those who seek shelter here.

So if we follow what facts I have already stated above we can draw this conclusion: Syria is a bloody, scary mess and any person in their right mind who could leave would leave. They are leaving to the safety of the countries closest to them and a huge number have come to Turkey. Once a refugee gets to Turkey he is given the status of ‘Guest’. If you know anything about Turkey and Turkish mentality, a guest in your home is treated better than anyone who actually lives there, as my husband constantly proves to me. This is how the Syrians are treated here. They are given full rights to go wherever they want. They can live and work like any other Turkish person. I would also note that many of the Syrians living along the border speak Turkish in fact many originated from Turkey (borders are just lines on maps after all) so language is not a barrier for many who come. Further, I have spoken with refugees who having been in the camps for quite a time, have learnt the language to a passable degree. So if a Syrian family did leave the refugee camp as is their right, they could create a nice life in Turkey.

A word on life in Turkey. No country is perfect, but I have lived here for over two years now and I have to say that the standard of living is almost similar to that of a first world country. In fact in a few years’ time, there is no doubt in my mind that some of the lagging infrastructure and practices will be on par with the West. Unfortunately, this push to get the country’s practices can sometimes cause problems in that often the regulations for anything from visas, to business ownership, to tax can change on a dime, however thankfully, there is still much common sense in public servants which means they are more willing to bend new rules. I will also acknowledge that there is a human rights issue here found on a political level and that is a huge problem. However the surging middle and upper class in the liberal part of Turkey is constantly buttressing any attempts to restrict their freedoms. Most notably, the current government which is much maligned, got a spanking in a recent election and is now teetering on the brink of having to call another election as the government has been dissolved and attempts at forming another one have not panned out. This situation was caused by thousands of people choosing to vote strategically so as to send a message to the government that this is a secular country and the people will keep it that way. Thus, Turkey has issues but it also has many pluses. Turkey has an amazing history (take a walk in my neighborhood to see countless archeological sites), its scenery is beautiful and diverse, its people are kind and hospitable and they have a deep love of family and adoration of children, its streets are safe, its TV programming is incredible (you have never watched a series such as a Turkish soup opera which when it airs does so for 3 and a half continuous hours a few times a week), it has a centuries old entrepreneurial spirit which means that you can pick up a phone and get anything you want because someone will sell it to you and get it to you and finally, the food! I have to say that the food in Turkey is amazing. It is fresh, natural, and delicious! Everything from a watermelon to a chocolate cake is grown or cooked to perfection.

In many ways Turkey is ahead of other countries. The banking technology for instance is the most forward I have ever seen. I half expect bank machines to bake bread! I mean, I live a life like I lived in Canada or the UK. I have flat, with everything you need in it. I have freedoms like I would in any other country. I can go where I want and do what I want. I gave birth to my daughter in a private hospital for a cost of about $450 or £250. I had a private room, dedicated doctor, two nurses both before and after the delivery and my daughter was immediately attended to by a pediatrician. I would like to see that on offer for the same price in the West.  Of course, like anywhere if you have money, you can get what you want. You can have a better standard of living than others who might not have as much cash as you but even a basic standard of living in Turkey is not bad at all. Which brings me to another point. If you lived in a small town in Turkey you could support a family of four with about $500 a month. For instance, the town nearest my husband’s village is a decently run locale with great transportation links, good schools, competent hospitals, necessary commercial enterprises and friendly people. You could rent a three bedroom flat for around $250 a month. Your weekly spend at the fresh food market would be around $25 and another $25 at the butchers, bakers, and grocery store. Electricity is about $35 per month. Gas is not piped into houses so stove tops are run with a gas tube lasting usually three months which will set you back $35. Water is pennies there being that it is located by the biggest dam in Europe so you could budget $10 per month. Adding that all up, you still have over $100 for transportation, clothing, and other sundries. Around the town there are agricultural sites and olive trees. In the spring, summer and early autumn many people work in the fields making $25 per day, that is men and women. In the winter months, the olive trees have to be worked. The olives have to be cultivated and then the trees skillfully prepared so that they are ready to produce once more. Again, that work pays around $25 per day. My husband and I always joke that if we lost everything tomorrow, we would just go to live in the village and work in the fields. Not the most glamorous of lives but life nonetheless. Another point to note, is that Turkish society puts much emphasis on education. My husband was bright and went to a special school to learn English. He won a place at a good school in Bodrum, even though his family chose to not send him away. Not so for our little nephew who is terribly bright so attends a school a half an hour away in the capital of the region once each week. My husband’s cousins are teachers, interior designers, business owners, office workers and the like and all of them came from less than affluent families. University is free in this country and there is a bursary program available to finance the students’ food and lodging.

I suspect that the reader might be wondering if they are reading a piece about migrants or a piece about the author’s love affair with her adopted homeland of Turkey. So let me wrap all of the espoused facts up into a irrefutable package that I hope will educate the reader as to the true migrant situation at least those who are currently in the press because they are traversing the Mediterranean sea from Bodrum to Kos. Syrians are rightly fleeing their homeland and many are coming to Turkey. Turkey is a moderate, secular Muslim country that has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The Syrian people have a very similar culture to the one found here and they seem able to learn the language with the help of the government programs already in place to help them integrate into the society. A society where they are given the same rights as a Turkish citizens and where with a little money they could carve out a life for their family and give their children a good future. Let me anticipate your comment at this juncture: but they do not have money, they are destitute. Really? Actually, in speaking with the people who have come here, they sold everything they owned (my husband and I still wonder who would buy anything in a war zone) and brought themselves and their money to Turkey. They brought a considerable amount of money with them because apparently the going rate for being taken to Kos from the shores of the Bodrum Peninsula is 1200 EURO. Twelve hundred EURO per person! If you have a family of four that means you just spent almost 5000 EUROS to leave a decent country to go a country that can barely afford to feed its own people. With that type of money which at today’s rate translates into almost 16000 Turkish Lira, a family of four, as I have just proved, could without any additional income, live comfortably for a year.

Instead many Syrian refugees would rather risk their and their children’s lives to pay organised criminal gangs to take them across the straight to Greece. Again, if you have been living under a rock you may not know about the Greek people’s problems, but I am going to presume that the reader is familiar with this huge issue. The people on Kos, like those in Bodrum, probably heaved a huge collective sigh of relief once the tourist season started as it meant that they could make enough money to survive now and in the winter. What they didn’t anticipate was that their island would be overrun in the thousands by migrants using their home as a stepping stone to Europe and specifically as a stepping stone to Germany, France and the UK where most of the migrants are headed. At first, just like the Turks here, the Greeks took pity on the Syrian families that were sleeping rough in their town and would give them blankets, cloths, and food, but after the proceeding months saw more and more migrants arriving and engaging in frankly anti-social behavior, their compassion is wearing thin. Again you might posit that these people have lost everything and are without a home to call their own. They are just trying to take care of their families and their futures. I have already made clear that they could do all of that in Turkey, but they do not want to do so.  They and the other migrant we are now dealing with here.

As my daughter and I took our nightly walk tonight we were greeted by the sight of groups of Pakistani and Afghani men sleeping on the green aligning the Marina as well the children’s play area. I realise that conditions in Afgahnistan are not good, but if there were truly dire then why are not entire families camped out together? Why are only young men from what appear to be the ages of 18 to 30 escaping their homeland. The answer is threaded through this entire post. These migrants are not seeking safety, if that was the case then they have already found it. Rather they are seeking an opportunity and as my grandparents and parents did.  I can fully understand this, but why do they feel that they have the right to do it this way? I hold both Canadian and British citizenship and my daughter is a Canadian and Turkish national, but her father holds only Turkish citizenship. In order for us to go to Canada as a family, I would have to sponsor my husband and prove that I have enough personal funds to support him for a year. A few years ago we did the residency paperwork for the UK which cost around £1000, but that has now lapsed and I would have to pay a similar amount to renew his residency there.  Additionally, I would have to prove that I have the means to support him so I would have to line up a job and a house beforehand. We are lucky in regards to the UK as had we put our paperwork in a few weeks later we would have had to prove that I had a minimum £18,000 in the bank. Do you get the picture here? Why should I, an English speaking naturalised citizen of two Western countries have to show that I have the means to support my husband in my own countries when migrants can just rock up and be allowed residency upon arrival? My husband speaks great English, thank goodness because it allows him to be successful in this tourist town so we can make ends meet. Do any of these migrants speak English, French or German? I have only heard them speak Arabic or Turkish so how are they going to get a job? When my husband did come to London to live, he had a job as a waiter within one month of arriving. I already had a job and we never accessed any public funds. Will the heads of these migrant households be able to find job to support their families if they do not speak the local language and do not have any transferable skills?  Or will the people of their new adopted countries have to support their households indefinitely?

Last week the Turkish coast guard (as they do every night now) saved a number of migrants from their capsized vessels. They couldn’t save all of them however as two small children died. Can you imagine being that man or woman who had to pull a little dead baby out of the water? Think about it!  I have been in those dinghies which are mainly used to travel from a docked boat to a shore line; never more than a few metres and never in rough open sea. I was not scared but I held more tightly than necessary onto my daughter whilst my husband had his arm around both of us and we were only in the vessel for a mere three or four minutes. Before you ask, the people smugglers put the migrants in these boats so that they are less detectable than a full sized vessel and therefore can avoid the Turkish and Greek Coast Guards. Because, yes, if caught they are sent back to Turkey, but if not they arrive in what they perceive as their first step to the Promised Land. Only nothing is promised now. Macedonia and Hungry are building fences so high that they will keep migrants out. Other countries are taking hard lines against those travelling Northward, so will these people even get to where they are headed? As a parent I cannot imagine putting the life of my child in any further danger or hardship that these refugees have already experienced. When I walk along the street and see little children sleeping on the ground in cardboard boxes, my heart cries for shame. Shame for the inhumanity that forced these children from their homes and shame for their parents who do not know the Promised Land when they have already reached it.





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