If you’re a migrant or refugee who’s stranded in Istanbul, you spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to give you legal documents. Waiting for someone to give you an odd job. But most of all, waiting for a chance to move on to another country in Europe. It can take years of waiting. And there are tens of thousands of you in Istanbul.
If you're a migrant or refugee who's stranded in Istanbul, you spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to give you legal documents. Waiting for someone to give you an odd job. But most of all, waiting for a chance to move on to another country in Europe. It can take years of waiting. And there are tens of thousands of you in Istanbul.
During this time you need food, clothing, and shelter. And if you're a mother with children, you want them to be in school. You need medical care when you and they are sick. For these things you might knock on the doors of mosques and churches. Several of the churches have banded together to coordinate their answer to you: the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP). Begun by our predecessors in 1991 during the first Gulf war, IIMP will do something to meet your needs: help you travel to Ankara to interview with the UNHCR; provide food staples; guide you to some medical help or legal aid; give you some clothing; or show you a small program for your children. IIMP can't help everyone, but it makes its donations and volunteers go a long way to serving as many as possible.
Thanks to a pilot grant in Turkey from Caritas, the Roman Catholic charity, IIMP has started granting scholarships to adult refugees and migrants while they are waiting. The scholarships fund short-term training to help clients cope with their situation or prepare for their future. Language lessons are a popular choice. IIMP clients come from many countries in Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia. Some would like English lessons, thinking this will give them an advantage when they move to North America or a European country. Others would like Turkish lessons, which will help them cope with daily needs during the long waiting period in Turkey.
If you are a refugee or migrant, waiting in Istanbul, who wants one of these adult education scholarships, then you will apply to the IIMP Board. Its members will interview you individually, using translators as needed. You will explain why you want the scholarship: whether for language lessons, computer classes, tailoring lessons, or whatever. You will give the names of people who can vouch for you. If all goes well, IIMP will pay for most or all your program.
When you are told that you have won a scholarship you are thrilled! Usually you have been badly treated in the country you left behind. So when you are offered a scholarship to improve yourself you begin to feel that you count for something and that you can prepare for a better future. You have a tiny glimmer of hope in what can be a very bleak time of waiting and waiting and waiting.
IIMP has representatives from Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic congregations. It is an ecumenical effort that puts into action Jesus' teaching to help those in need. Betty and I are glad to be on the IIMP Board, for IIMP is a critical presence for the refugees and migrants in Istanbul.
Ken & Betty Frank
Ken & Betty Frank serve with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey. They share the job of General Secretary of the American Board. They also serve on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).