In Istanbul, an Arabic Bookstore Anchors Syrian Refugees

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 2:28 PM

The founder and owner of Pages, Samer al-Kadri, a refugee himself, says the store strives to be a bridge between Syrians, Turks and the myriad of foreigners who visit the city.

A rustic, three story-Arabic bookstore in elderly Istanbul has become an anchor for many Syrians who have stayed keep in Turkey but desire a taste of home.

The founder and owner of Pages, Samer al-Kadri, a refugee himself, says the store strives to be a bridge between Syrians, Turks and the myriad of foreigners who visit the city.

Its weekly program includes music concerts and, starting soon, speech exchanges in Arabic, English and Turkish. Books are available in all three languages. Al-Kadri is acutely alert that the speech barrier "has made it challenging for Syrians to really integrate into society."

Turkey is hosting 2.7 million Syrian refugees and is due to get many more below a map with the European Union that aims to halt the smuggling of migrants into Europe. The deal stipulates that for every Syrian returned, another Syrian in Turkey will be relocated to a European country.

The map has drawn considerable criticism from human rights groups, who worry that Turkey isn't a suitable refuge for asylum-seekers and fear it could pave the way for mass deportations. Amnesty International says Turkey has already scaled down its registration of Syrian refugees and is illegally sending back refugees to its war-torn neighbor.

In the eyes of many Syrians, the deal has rendered them pawns in a political bargain that benefits everyone but them.

Ola Suleiman, a new employee at the bookstore, says there'south a touch of "evil" to the deal because "they're deciding the fate of a people."

While her middle-class family is among the Syrians who are doing better for themselves in Istanbul, it hasn't been easy. The cost of life in Turkey is distant higher than in pre-war or even post-war Syria. Most Syrian refugees live exterior the camps and largely fend off for themselves.

Suleiman and her siblings work six days a week without vacation just to hold their household afloat. Technically many Syrians don't have the right to work. Suleiman doesn't have a work contract let alone health insurance. This, she says, leaves Syrian workers assailable to exploitation while allowing Turkish business owners to evade taxes.

Turkey has committed to giving work permits to its Syrian "guests" but there are signs this perk may be riddled with caveats.

Still, Suleiman likes working in a bookshop and treasures the precious moments that authorize her to read once again. It's a feeling shared by many customers, including Faiz Dakhil, who loves the scent of books and says this space makes him "perceive at home."

Al-Kadri, Suleiman and Dakhil have stayed in Turkey because they wish to be able to return to Syria as soon as the war is over. But those who fled to Europe have slice their losses and are dreaming of a better future elsewhere. For them, it'll be additional tough to start a new life in Turkey.

"I hope that everyone who left with the intention of improving their situation can complete his journey, doesn't return to Turkey," says Dakhil.

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