Water doesn’t flow nonstop
to the Öncüpinar refugee camp
Text: Nina Jaatinen
Photos: Vanessa Riki
Öncüpinar is not a stereotypical refugee camp. When you first step inside the area, there is no mud, no dirt, no noise and no chaos. Instead you get the feeling of being inside a tiny little village, where everything is in order: white container houses, nurseries, schools, office buildings all in row with clean, straight stone-coated alleys running in between.
On one white container-home, there is vine growing near the ceiling and at the front of the container. It has been laundry day, as there are clean clothes hanging under the window. Satellite dishes on the rooftop, a sofa where you can sit and have a chat with the neighbors, kids bicycles and prams outside the containers tell that life is going on. Not as usual, but at least as good as it can.
Öncüpinar refugee camp is situated in Kilis, Turkey, just next to the Syrian border. If you go deep into the camp, you can see the Syrian flag flying in the wind on the other side of the wall, reminding the camp residents of their old homeland. So near, yet so far.
Lack of Water
After the Syrian war escalated in 2011, around 3.5 million Syrians have fled to Turkey. In the province of Kilis, it’s hard not to notice the change. In Kilis, the number of Syrian refugees outnumber the total of the local people in the host community (130 000 / 131 000 as of 2018). This has created tremendous challenges for the Kilis Municipality in many ways, with one of the challenges being the lack of clean water.
The area around Kilis is very arid and dry. The increasing number of refugees has led to an ever-increasing need for water. Most of the city’s drinking water comes from a dam, but due to climate change there was less rainfall than average in 2018, so the amount of water was not nearly enough to sustain the increase in population. The main problem continues to be the leaking water distribution system, which results in a 40% loss of drinkable water.
As a result, Kilis has a huge potable water problem and this is has had a direct impact on the Öncüpinar refugee camp. Originally the camp did have it’s own wells to provide water, but they eventually dried up. Now the water comes from the Kilis municipality dam. In November 2018, there was an attempt to find more water from the camp enclosure by drilling eight wells. By the spring of 2019, they succeeded in drilling new wells and are now able to extract 170 tons of extra water per day.
Due to the water shortage, a water use limit has been introduced into the camp.
“We are providing the water to the camp residents every second day, because it is an agreement with the local municipality”, says the camp manager Murat Cakmak.
The day the water flows to the camp, the residents can get it from two hours per day. As an exception, the water flows to the schools and social spaces in the camp every day, so that the school children and people using public spaces can wash their hands and flush the toilets.
“The teachers give kids hygiene education at the school”, tells the manager.
Mr Cakmak explains that they have learned a lot about issues concerning water, due to the Kilis city water problem. He further explains that one way to try to save water is to teach people how to use it in best possible way.
The camp manager Murat Cakmak behind his desk.
Öncüpinar Refugee Camp
In November 2018 there were 3099 containers in Öncüpinar and 9855 people living in the camp, 60% of them being children living in one container.
Öncupinar camp was opened in 2012 by AFAD and handed over to MDGMM (Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Migration Management) in April 2018. The majority of the finance that maintains the camp comes from MDGMM.
The camp area is covered with tiles and the rainwater is collected and drained away.
There are approximately four people living in one container. There is a living room, toilet, shower, kitchen and air conditioner in every container. Electricity is provided 24 hours a day. The monthly cost of electricity for the whole camp is approximately 200 000 TRY per month in the summer and 1 000 000 TRY in the winter.
Schools and Public Spaces
There are five schools in the camp: preliminary, secondary and a high school. There are several public spaces, a mosque and a clinic.
Families get taught about hygiene and energy saving methods in mosques, and children get taught about this in the schools.
During the days when the water flows into the camp, approximately 600 tons of water is used. Water is delivered to the containers by the water distribution network twice daily, for two hours. Each container has its own small water storage unit to provide water when needed. Each container is connected to the water and wastewater network in the camp.
Drinkable water is stored in four big water tanks inside a roofed storage hall. Each tank has a capacity of 2400 cubic meters. The water is treated with chlorine before being distributed to the camp’s water network.
The camp’s management and maintenance team have learned a lot about the importance of water. The team are considering all the ways of saving water as well as different technical water saving options. The camp management, the Kilis municipality and the provincial authority all cooperate well with each other. In addition, a special committee has been set up to study and find different solutions for the lack of water.
There are five laundries in the camp to wash clothes. The camp management organizes washing times so that every family in the camp has the opportunity to wash their clothes regularly. Disabled people have the right to wash their clothes more often.
At one laundry there are two elderly women: Khadija Asolo, 70, and Majeda Ibrahim, 48. “We are trying to come here
once a week”, the women say.
Center for disabled
Name of the special education teacher: Iman Gostany Education center for the disabled, which provides special education. There are also children with Down syndrome and autism. The children get transportation to the school and back to the camp.
There are two shifts at the school: one is only for the children with autism, and the other for the children with other kinds of disability.
The age of the children varies between 7 and 17. The groups are divided between the younger and older children. They also have different activities according to their age.
The teacher speaks Arabic, they learn reading, writing, singing, drawing amongst other subjects they learn.
“Sometimes we send them to normal schools to integrate them”, says the special education teacher, Iman Gostany. She explains that they try to collaborate with mainstream school teachers so some of the children could maybe spend the rest of their school time in a mainstream school.
-Outside of the camps there are no special children’s centers.
The camp has its own wastewater treatment plant. The treatment process starts with screening that separates the solids from the wastewater. Then a coagulant is added to the water and directed to the underground preliminary settling tank where the solids sink to the bottom of the tank. The sludge is then removed and taken to disposal.
After this phase, the water goes through a biological aeration process in several aeration tanks, where the bacteria break down and consume the nutrients in the wastewater. There are altogether twenty tanks, each of them holding 600 tons of wastewater and several pumps providing them air.
The solids and excess sludge from the wastewater treatment process are removed and dried with a drier and taken by sludge vehicles to the Kilis municipality for disposal. After being cleaned, the effluent of the treated wastewater goes through a canal to a valley on the Syrian side of the border where it is used for agricultural purposes. There are tests done every second week in the wastewater treatment plant to ensure the quality of the treated water.
Waste is collected every day at the camp. There are waste containers for household waste. The camp has its own waste collection vehicle that takes the waste to the waste transfer station for the Kilisi Municipality. There is no bio-waste separation within the camp.