News - May 30, 2013

'At the end of the day I was shattered'

Who? Babs Ates, MSc student of Development and Rural Innovation
What? Final internship with the NGO ASAM (Association for Solidarity with Asylum seekers and Migrants)
Where? Ankara, Turkey

'I really wanted to work with refugees on my internship. I had done it before and enjoyed it. When I was looking for an internship there was a great stream of refugees pouring into Turkey from Syria. So I ended up with the Turkish-based NGO ASAM.
Although Turkey does not officially accept asylum seekers from outside Europe, thousands of people come in every year, mainly from the Middle East.  ASAM has been tasked by the UN with the job of pre-registering asylum seekers in Turkey when they have just come into the country. Later on the UN takes care of the full asylum application - a procedure that can take up to six years. I wanted to know whether refugees arriving from Turkey knew what was in store for them in advance. To find that out I interviewed a number of asylum seekers.
The interviews were quite heavy, emotionally. You are dealing with very vulnerable people and that is hard. There was a woman of 50 from Somalia, a mother of four, who cried all through the interview. Afterwards people were often grateful for the interview. Because there are not many people who really listen to their stories and respond to them personally.  But it still felt strange, because apart from taking the time to listen to them, I couldn't do much for them. At the end of a day of interviewing I was shattered.
Luckily I could let off steam now and then. In the evenings we sometimes went out for a meal or a beer with the people from the ASAM office. Those sorts of evenings were a very nice way to see something of the Turkish culture. The hookah smoking was something special, because it is a very sociable activity. Turkey is still a real smoker's country: if people don't have a hookah to hand they light another cigarette.'