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Iraqi refugees wait for new lives in Istanbul’s ‘Little Baghdad’

A neighborhood known as ‘Son Durak’ (Last Stop) in Istanbul’s Kurtuluş area is a way station for Iraqis who have fled the Iraq war since 2003. The community, also called ‘Little Baghdad,’ is mostly populated by Christian refugees from central and southern Iraq whose meeting-point is a café on the neighborhood square

ICC Note:

Thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees wait in Turkey before immigrating to the west after fleeing intense persecution in their homeland.

By Bahar Cuhadar

4/29/2011 Iraq, Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) – Sitting inside the Genç Kardeşler Café behind the bus station in Istanbul’s Kurtuluş area, it is easy to see why the “Son Durak” (Last Stop) neighborhood is also called “Little Baghdad.”

The men playing cards and chatting at the cafe, smoking at the door or enjoying the sun outside predominantly speak Arabic, and like many of those who have made the journey from Iraq, their lives are characterized by waiting.

Kurtuluş has been a way station for some time for thousands of Iraqi refugees who fled violence and war at home, leaving behind their families, loved ones, jobs, houses and even their pasts. Here in this cosmopolitan Istanbul neighborhood, the men bide their time in this cafe, the women at home, while children and the young play or linger in the streets or attend courses organized for refugees by immigration organizations. What they all have in common is waiting.

Some have been waiting four or five years to receive an acceptance from a host country where they applied to immigrate. Others sail away to a new life after only a year.

Iraqis choose to settle in Kurtuluş while they wait for a variety of reasons. The area is full of churches and home to the Catholic charity organization Caritas and the Chaldean Church, making it attractive to the many Christian migrants. It is close to immigrant organizations in Beyoğlu and populated by Greeks, Armenians and members of other migrant groups. The rents are also relatively low. But more than anything, the desire for “being together” leads many refugees to make this area their temporary home.

In Kurtuluş, they have peace and security – what they yearn for most for their country – but a sense that this feeling is temporary. Many yearn to leave behind both the violence in Iraq and their days of poverty in Istanbul and start over in a Western country.

Facts about refugees

* The number of Iraqi refugees in Turkey, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, is 6,590.

* Nearly 1,600 Iraqi Christian refugees live in Istanbul.

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