Gaziantep: Syrian women and girls in Türkiye are not invisible


Members of the ACHAC team and of the UNTF team are sitting at a table and standing in a room with banners of AHAC, facing the camera
Amal Healing and Advocacy Center meeting with UN Women Türkiye Country Office representative and the UN Trust Fund team. Credit: Diep Nguyen/UN Trust Fund

When Henadi Sabbagh surrendered her papers (“kimlik”) to cross the border back home to Syria to visit her sick father, she did not realize that once returning to Türkiye, she would have to hold her breath every time there is identification control. Fled Syria during the war eight years ago, Henadi was under a “temporary protection” status[1], which forced her to stay in the province she was registered in Türkiye without many options to establish a safer life anew.  

Henadi is among some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees in Türkiye, a country that hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, many are forcibly displaced due to conflict, violence and persecution.[2] With limited Turkish knowledge, Henadi has had difficulty finding work despite her previous hairdressing skills in Syria; now without kimlik, the possibility for employment is slim, and the fear of deportation is as high as ever. In 2023 when Henadi saw announcements about workshops on specialist support for Syrian women from the Amal Healing and Advocacy Center (AHAC), she signed up and became a regular participant of the Syrian Women Committee as part of AHAC, slowly gaining a social life she was yearning to find women in similar situations. Henadi has also sought support from AHAC’s legal team to obtain her kimlik while receiving psychosocial aid in her recovery from the earthquake. 

AHAC, a Syrian women-led organization founded in Antakya, near the Syrian-Turkish border, has been serving the Syrian refugee community, especially Syrian women who have experienced trauma from social and sexual violence in Türkiye since 2014. In its 10 years of existence, AHAC has impacted 5000 lives with its comprehensive service provision, including a dedicated hotline, legal and psychological assistance, and case management services for women survivors of violence; training women mobilizers to prevent child marriage; and improving referral networks. As a Syrian-led organization operating in Türkiye, AHAC provides unique type of support to Syrian women and girls as it navigates the local legal and social systems to provide support to Syrian refugees, while continuing to tackle gender-based discrimination and violence within the family and community: a combination of tasks that is challenging and requires immense coordination efforts.  

For Abir Danman, a 19-year-old Syrian-Palestinian who arrived in Türkiye nine years ago, women’s rights workshops at AHAC have provided her the knowledge to “save [herself] from early marriage”, a common ongoing practice among the Syrian community. However, Abir struggles to find her voice in the local community where she has spent half of her life.  

“We always see online racism, also at school, on the streets, and when we speak Arabic anywhere we go.” 

Two women are sitting at a desk facing the camera and smiling. One is wearing a dark sweater with a white shirt underneath and has medium long brown hair. The other one is wearing a burgundy sweater and has long blonde curly hair.
Besma Mehmercik and Najlaa Rahal, legal advisors of AHAC at their office in Gaziantep. Credit: Diep Nguyen/UN Trust Fund

In AHAC’s new office in Gaziantep[3], Henadi and Abir shared their stories with Sidra El Halaf, a twenty-year-old Syrian woman attending university in Türkiye. For her, proficiency in Turkish does not equate an absence of challenges. Following the devastating earthquake in February 2023, increased discrimination, xenophobic violence, and stigma has made the situation more dire for Syrian refugees. Arriving in Türkiye when she was only 9 years old, Sidra along with her mother and sister lost all their money to the smugglers who took advantage of their situation while crossing the border. “We had nothing. No money, no job, no language.”, shared Sidra. While her mother and sister made ends meet by working small day jobs, Sidra spent the next three years mastering the language to immerse into the Turkish life. However, the xenophobia and racism has created multiple barriers that have neither inspired Sidra nor Abir to seek employment in Türkiye.  

The limitations on the status of displaced Syrians in Türkiye have put numerous obstacles on their way to agency: from freedom of movement, to access to public services, employment, and more. The hope to return home in Syria is vivant, but it is with prospects of risks. Henadi, Abir and Sidra share a common desire for vocational training to regain their financial independence, all the while hoping for the xenophobia and racism to subside.  

AHAC, along with multiple partners in Gaziantep, has continued to meet the growing needs of the Syrian community in Türkiye. An organization with around 10 staff caters to approximately 180 cases every month: either providing direct services, referring to their partners’ or following up on public legal clinics, AHAC is creating social networks for displaced Syrians to navigate in the host country so they can call it home one day.  

Efforts to protect women and girls are giving hopes to internally displaced and refugee women and girls who risk being left behind. Supporting small, survivors- and constituent-led organizations like AHAC is supporting women and girls on the move in navigating the maze of daily challenges they face while in between two worlds. 

[1] UNHCR.

[2] UNHCR. 

[3] AHAC’s original office was in Hatay Province, which was heavily affected by the earthquake and prompted the organization to swiftly move to Gaziantep.