The Don Bosco Center in Istanbul, Turkey, led by Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz, provides special programs for young refugees from Syria, as well as a number of families who fled ISIS persecution in Iraq, ReliefWeb writes.
Since most refugees do not speak the local language, it is difficult for children to attend school and adults to find work, and precisely for this reason, the Don Bosco Center makes teaching the English language a primary focus of its programs.
Sharing a 500-mile-long border with Syria, southeastern Turkey has more than 3 million Syrian refugees, as reported by the United Nations. Salesian missionaries are providing services at three sites within Syria while also providing for Syrian refugees in Turkey. While many Syrian refugees stay in towns on the Turkey-Syrian border, many find their way to big cities like Istanbul where Salesian missionaries operate the Don Bosco Center.
The Don Bosco Center opened its doors more than 20 years ago as a temporary response to a wave of refugees from Iraq. With conflict continuing in the region today, new refugees and asylum seekers arrive every day. The center is sustained by donations and allows families to send their children there for free. More than 120 students, 90 percent of whom are Iraqi Christians, are currently attending programs there. Students have access to sports and dance programs intended to help them connect with their peers and find enjoyment and comfort in their new surroundings. In addition, the program provides counseling both for youth and their families to help them overcome the challenges and traumas they may have faced.
“Salesian missionary work in Istanbul serves a critical purpose providing refugees links to service providers and comprehensive assistance as they transition, for an unknown period of time, into local society,” said Neill Holland, program officer at the Salesian Missions Office for International Programs.
“Without a doubt, the biggest Salesian success is the safe space created for youth who have experienced trauma in their home countries. At the Don Bosco School and community center, refugee youth take part in recreation activities with Turkish youth which allows them to move beyond their hardships while giving them a chance to forget their worries and be children once again.” he added.
In Turkey, Catholics represent only 0.02 percent of the population and number less than 15,000.Salesian missionaries primarily focus on the Christian families from Syria and Iraq, but there are also Pakistani, Nigerian, Kazakh and Iranian families that seek services from the Don Bosco Center.