Chinese migrant offers solace to Syrian refugees in Turkey

By Li Qian Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/25 19:38:39

Wu Zhen notes the money donated to refugees in one of their homes in Ankara. Photo: Wang Xun

Every month, Wu Zhen drives to the outskirts of the Turkish capital Ankara to visit Syrian refugees living there.

Millions of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country in the past couple of years, moving toward Western Europe, with many settling in Turkey. Wu, a Chinese immigrant in Turkey, has dedicated his life to helping these refugees.

On a beautiful morning, Wu got up early and drove to a hillside crowded with houses populated by Syrians who have settled there after fleeing the war. The dilapidated neighborhood has been mostly taken over by refugees, and is a place that local Turks now seldom visit.

It was the day of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Wu made a detour to a bakery to buy some cakes for the Mervans and the Yasirs, two families who have lost loved ones in the war and are most in need of help among Wu's list of families.

Families in need

The task for that day was to allocate money to the refugee households. Wu told the Global Times that he is now helping eight families.

The Mervans, the top family on Wu's list, or the one most in need of financial aid, have been devastated by the war. Mervan Hindi, 63, suffered serious mental problems and became paralyzed after his son was killed in an explosion and his daughter-in-law went missing in the chaos. He and his wife fled to Turkey with their 5-year-old grandson seeking sanctuary, and settled in Ankara with no source of income.

The Mervan family is entirely dependent on Wu's financial aid to pay the rent, food and daily expenses.

Wu can't speak Arabic, so every time he visits refugees, he invites a friend to go with him and translate. Pakistani student Jihad, who is attending college in Ankara, usually offers to help Wu.

Leaving the Mervans, they came to the second family on the list, the Yasirs. The couple brought tea and candies to welcome them. The husband is unable to walk after he was injured in the war. Wu's help gives the couple and their two children some much needed support. The couple say their only wish is for their kids to grow up healthily in a safe environment.

Wu gives each family a certain amount of Turkish lira when he visits them, and asks them to sign their names upon receiving the money. Wu keeps the expenses transparent and publishes the records on his WeChat group of donors.

Wu offers different amounts of money to different families according to the level of difficulties they are facing. He gives significantly bigger sums to families with no ability to make money. He gave an amount that equals to 720 yuan ($108) to the Mervan family for August, an amount three times what is given to some other families.

"I want to help them as much as I can, but don't want those who can still work to lose the motivation of fighting for life and end up just depending on the donations," Wu said.

A dilapidated neighborhood in Ankara home to Syrian refugees. Photos: Wang Xun

Fateful trip

Wu was born in Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. He spent a short time working for the railway but eventually embarked on a career as a tour guide in Urumqi, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and Hainan Province. In 2005, he started working as a guide for tourists who visit Uyghur families in Turpan, Xinjiang, and had been doing that for 10 years.

It was a trip to Turkey at the end of 2014 that made Wu fall in love with the country and decide to move there. The most attractive aspect of Turkey is its people, Wu says. Whenever he goes out, he writes down the names of the places he's going to so that he can show them to locals in case he needs directions. He says he always receives a warm-hearted response and generous help.

Born into a poor family himself, Wu says he understands the plight of people in need of financial help. Wu is no stranger to charity work. When in China, he regularly donated to the impoverished.

When he saw the refugees in Turkey, he naturally wanted to try and help. Although a new immigrant himself with no stable income from his job as a tour guide and driver, he dedicated himself to charity work by calling on his better-off friends in China to help the refugees in Turkey. He raises money from friends and well-wishers, and puts them in a WeChat group to update them on his progress.

Every time he goes out to help, he posts pictures and videos of his tour in real time, and publishes the details of how the money is being spent.

As of August 22, Wu has given out 16,153 yuan, but he is worried that the remaining money can only sustain families for three months.

"Things like this [charity] needs persistence. I only wish to influence a small number of people around me," he told the Global Times.

Wu said being able to help people make it through the suffering is his motivation to continue doing charity work. Every time he visits, he chats and drinks tea with the Mervans, while their grandson plays with other children outside, which is ample reward for the work he does.

Newspaper headline: Help at hand

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