Why Are Syrian Aid Workers Leaving for Europe?


Gaziantep, Turkey — Frustration. In a city that has become known for its dynamic activist community, weariness is starting to show in a network that has been stretched by donor fatigue, occupational burnout, and the opportunity of starting over far away.

Located only 50 kilometers away from the Syrian border and home to more than 200,000 refugees, Gaziantep has become the address for Syrian and international civil society, aid and development organizations. It’s also where many activists decided they had had enough.

“I’m based on the airplane between Beirut and Gaziantep,” said Fadi Hallisso. The 37-year-old is the CEO and cofounder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, a grassroots NGO that supports Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities in Lebanon and Turkey.

After studying civil engineering in Aleppo, Fadi moved to Egypt and Lebanon to study to become a priest. He was in Lebanon in 2011 when the uprising started in Syria, along with the first waves of refugees. What began as a group of friends volunteering to help refugees turned into Basmeh and Zeitooneh, which translates as “A smile and an olive.” Photo provided by Fadi Hallisso.

Over the course of the past year, Hallisso said almost 25 % of their employees had gone to Europe. Their personal reasons for leaving vary, but the common underlying one is a frustration with instability.

The laws of the neighboring countries these organizations are based in do not make matters easy. Even Turkey, which had long been considered more lenient than Lebanon and Jordan in its policies towards refugees, introduced new visa restrictions last week.

“The laws keep getting stricter and more constricting for Syrians in Turkey and Lebanon,” said Hallisso. “We weren’t able to work in Jordan at all, although there were so many opportunities for projects there. But we were unable to do anything, because —> Read More