Syria's Orphans Stuck in Limbo

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Reyhanli, Turkey

February 3, 2015

As Turkey’s urban refugee population skyrockets, keeping track of the most vulnerable children is becoming impossible and the risk of sexual and work exploitation is increasing. Turkey's traditionally effective orphan care system is overwhelmed and cannot cope with the burden. In such cases, adoption is often a part of the solution. However, adoption remains extremely rare for both cultural reasons and a lack of infrastructure to manage safe and secure adoptions.

Syrian NGO Maram started an orphanage to help protect some of these children. Ruba Shalish, 11, arrived to the orphanage two weeks ago. She had lived with her grandfather, 75-year-old Nadir, in his small garage-house for one year after losing both of her parents in Syria. She is happy at the orphanage and interacting very well with her friends, as shown by her confident performance in a show organized by the orphanage management. While the orphanage can take 75 children, founder Yakzan Shishakly refuses to allow them to be adopted, despite frequent inquiries, fearing that the unregulated adoption system could easily lead to human trafficking. For many, the most logical solution to the crisis is to expand the existing orphanage infrastructure. However, alleviating the growing problem remains a distant reality.

Shotlist

  1. Cutaway — Ruba’s eyes close up
  2. Cutaway — Ruba on bed, behind, close up of back of head
  3. Cutaway — Ruba on bed, behind, mid shot
  4. Wide of orphanage building (external)
  5. Medium of orphanage sign
  6. Wide of man walking into orphanage/ orphan boys at door
  7. Medium of young girl singing
  8. Various of orphanage worker braiding and combing children’s hair. NAT Sound (Worker addressing children in Arabic): “You can go now. Come, Haya."
  9. Wide of girls singing. NAT Sound: (Arabic) “Peace be upon you, Mohammad."
  10. Various of children assembling a puzzle
  11. Ruba and her class perform (#“We call you from Syria, you children of the world")
  12. Ruba performs solo poem on stage – mid shot (#Let’s share the heaviness of the disasters.
  13. Ruba perfoms solo poem on stage, close-up (#I don’t cry because I’m away, I cry for you.)
  14. Wide of audience applauding
  15. Various of Ruba meeting her grandfather at his garage-house
  16. Various of grandfather’s house interior.
  17. Close-up of grandfather rolling a cigarette
  18. Various of grandfather smoking
  19. Various of orphanage founder Yakzan Shishakly at his office
  20. Various of banner with signatures “From Houston to Syria with Love"
  21. Various of Yakzan Shishakly attending performance
  22. Cutaway – Metin Corabatir's hands close-up
  23. Cutaway – (Metin Corabatir) over the shoulder mid-shot
  24. Establishing shot —Metin Corabatir drinking tea
  25. Empty street leading to Taksim Square — neon sign in Arabic scrolls
  26. Taksim Square, young boy chasing pigeons
  27. Taksim Square, young Syrian boy asks tourists for money
  28. Taksim Square, Syrian boy on crutches begs for money

Script

  1. soundbite (Arabic)
    Ruba Shalish, 11-year-old Syrian Orphan in Turkey: 00:00 - 03:20 "My name is Ruba Shalish, I come from the countryside outside Hama , from the town of Kfarbou. I am 11 years old, in the sixth grade. We are from the countryside outside Hama, but we lived Damascus. We lived in a village [near Damascus] called Zamalka, which was under bombardment. My father was scared for us and moved us to my grandfather’s house. He said that he would follow us in a week. He stayed at our house with my uncle, who brought his family to stay with him. He was sitting outside with his friend. There was a checkpoint in front of our house. Two masked men came, carrying weapon. They started firing from a distance. The man who was with him, his friend, ran away, while he stayed there." 00:51 "My dad wanted to stand up to go with the revolutionaries but one of the men hit him on his shoulder and my dad hit him on his head with the pistol and tried to get it away. He wanted to hit the other guy but he was shot three times in the head When we were first in the countryside outside Hama, a warplane was flying while we were at school. We were taking an exam to move to the third grade. The warplane dropped a bomb near the school. We all started to run to the back. We went to a nearby village; it was not far. They [my relatives] were working to pay their houses’ rents, and grandparents are old. My oldest [brother] is studying at the university in Damascus. He is in his third year. I have a brother who is fighting with the Nusra Front. Q: Do you know what adoption (tabanni) is? Ruba: Wishing (tamanni)? Q: Adoption. Ruba: Adoption or wishing? Q: Adoption. Ruba: No. Q: For example, sometimes… there is someone… Someone could come from America and wants you to be their daughter and live with them. Ruba: I cannot go. My grandparents would not accept. This orphanage has given them [children] everything they have lost. It is as if the orphanage has adopted the students of this school. It has given them everything they have lost – their parents, the chance to study. It has compensated everything they have lost."
  2. soundbite (Arabic)
    Nadir Shalish, 75-year-old Ruba's Grandfather: 04:24 - 06:02 "I communicated with the orphanage (...) We told them that this girl has a perilous situation. Her father and mother are dead. Her grandmother from her father’s side, who was my first wife, is dead. My current wife is not her grandmother. I am old. If I die, this girl… I want her to be in safe hands. I want to be reassured about her fate. [Opinion about adoption] I want her to live according to my ethics. I do not want to lose her. If she lived in a different environment, she would be alienated from her roots. We do not approve this. At the time being, until she becomes mature and finds her way in life, depending on her qualifications and potentials… Every person is able to do specific things. I will help her, if I stay alive, and her uncles can provide her with help. The orphanage can also support her until she is able to stand on her feet and find her way in life."
  3. soundbite (English)
    Yakzan Shishakly, Founder of Maram Foundation : 06:44 - 09:08 "Because of the need of the number of child orphans — we're at 200,000 now so it was a must. We decided to start the project over two years ago. We found the need but we didn't have the support. There is no security to protect the children. We don't have that. Parents can hardly protect themselves. In many cases they lost their fathers or mothers, they're in a new area, new schools, no real community to protect children. If things keep going the way they’re going now we’re going to see child trafficking. We’re trying to do something as a Syrian NGO to track what is happening and report it to the authority, but on a very small scale. I think Ruba is a good example of how we can pick up somebody from this situation and teach them languages, teach them music, help them to have their hobby and head in the right direction. Many people call. Yesterday a friend of mine called me and said he knew a couple looking to adopt a little girl. I told him we cannot do this, we can’t start this. I’m personally afraid of child trafficking. We have no regulation, we have no authority over adoption. Let’s say for example somebody comes and want to adopt two children. We do the background and he has enough money and is good, how do we know he’s going to treat them well and he’s not going to sell them to Africa, maybe, or abuse them at home, or abuse them sexually. We don’t know. We cannot do the follow up. And adoption now will open the door for all kinds of people out there. There are good and bad, but personally for me and my beliefs I cannot allow that to happen."
  4. soundbite (English)
    Metin Corabatir, Former UNHCR Spokesman in Turkey and current Vice President of IGAM (Asylum Migration Research Center): 10:14 - 12:09 "Unless there are measures to address these problems of course it is going to be a bigger problem. The UN estimates there will be a 2million at the end of this year or by next year 2016, numbers (of Syrian refugees in Turkey) will reach more than 2 million. Even in the camps there are early marriages. Child marriages happen. But in urban situations, you can see people desperately begging and with small kids, so there’s always a possibility that you have abandoned kids. Of course there's another dimension to child adoption. It’s understandable and very respectful that families with pure sincere humanitarian motivations want to adopt unaccompanied minor too give them a chance of a better life. The states are right to put strict rules for other reasons especially if it involves transnational adoption from one country to another. Unfortunately not everyone has such good intentions. We have organ mafia, human traffickers, sex abusers so the main problem here is to protect the children. Internationally, maybe between the states and security organisations there should be better cooperation to follow up."