With very little money, but an enthusiasm for innovation, two refugees who fled the besieged Syria two years ago came up with an idea to assist those who have fled the war and are trying to adjust to life in Turkey. Despite its own political strife, Turkey has so far hosted the most Syrian refugees fleeing a war that has deteriorated since 2011 and which started with an uprising against the current Syrian government.
The concept was a mobile application (app) to assist refugees living in Turkey. The application called 8rbtna, Arabic for ‘eeriness’, is a platform that provides information to Syrian refugees pertaining to life in Turkey and gives a detailed guide on steps to take once the refugees arrive in Turkey and the processes that they should go through in order to live in the country.
“We faced many challenges integrating into Turkish society. We knew nothing about the laws in Turkey, how to work in Turkey, how to live or acquire the legal documentation needed to stay in Turkey,” says Marouf Babelli, co-founder of the application for refugees.
Mojahed Akil and Marouf Babelli, the guys who created the app, both come from the city of Aleppo which is currently under siege by Syrian, Russian and US airstrikes. With the number of estimated bombing casualties, in the past week reportedly totally around 248, there are only 30 doctors remaining in the city.
“We came up with this idea to help Syrians to get the information required in order to start a new life in Turkey, away from war and to help them with their daily livelihoods in turkey,” Babelli continued.
Border of death
Once a university lecturer in Aleppo, Babelli left Syria after being injured in an airstrike. He used to live in the rebel held area of Aleppo, but had to travel everyday past checkpoints to the government controlled area of Aleppo where his university, Mamoun private university for science and technology, was located.
After the airstrike, he fled the country with his family as the commute between the two areas became increasingly dangerous and the situation in Aleppo started to deteriorate.
Akil’s story is somewhat different as he was actually arrested by government forces and spent 24 days in prison where he was tortured. Akil was eventually released through a series of bribes and family connections and then left Aleppo for Gaziantep (Turkey) where he and Babelli now run a successful company.
The reason for Akil’s arrest was due to the fact that he was an activist in Syria and at the start of the revolution he used social media as a platform to engage with people in Syria about the revolution that took place in 2011, which has now turned into full-blown civil war.
The company is so successful in fact that the pair were invited, by Google, to attend the annual Google conference in the United States of America, in order to present their app to the forum. However, their visa to visit the U.S was denied and they were unable to travel to the country.
“They gave me no reasons as to why my visa was denied, but I suspect that it is because my name is Mojahed (another form of the name Jihad), I am Syrian and my fiancé is Iraqi,” explained Akil.
“The app has many sections, including education, how to register children in schools and how young Syrians can register at university,” says Akil, when describing the features on the app.
Other information includes information on how to get married in Turkey. Marriage policies do differ from country to country and whilst Turkey is a majority Muslim country, other customs are followed with regards to marriage. It will also provide news on the situation in Syria and news in Turkey with regards to the changing policies on Syrian refugees and their status within the country.
The facility also provides video content for users to make it easily understandable for the audience and it also provides a space where job opportunities can be listed for Syrians living in Turkey.
The app allows the user access to a translator.
“For instance, if you go to a bank and no one speaks English and you cannot speak Turkish, then you can call the call centre provided through the app, the phone can be given to the bank teller and someone on the other end will translate whatever you need,” Akil explained.
The duo started the project by launching the mobile application and the website on Android phones, after that an IOS version was created for Apple users.
A magazine has also been published for those who prefer their information provided in the form of hard copies and the pair hope to add a radio platform to their company where they will be able to engage with a larger community.
The application is all in Arabic and available via IOS and Android stores. The link to the website is provided: http://8rbtna.com/
VOC (Umarah Hartley)