The civil war in Syria entering its fifth year with nearly 6.5 million people displaced in Syria, Turkey has been hosting nearly two million refugees escaping from the Assad regime.
The civil war in Syria entering its fifth year with nearly 6.5 million people displaced in Syria, Turkey has been hosting nearly two million refugees escaping from the Assad regime. The refugee camps established in 10 provinces of Turkey, have been described as “five star” as it exceeds many international standards of camp conditions. On the other hand, in urban areas, the government, aid agencies and NGOs struggle to meet the needs of an-ever growing number of refugees. In this perspective, the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) at Washington D.C. has organized a panel on Tuesday to discuss the refugee crisis in Turkey and its impact on social, political and economic dynamics in the country. At the panel, in which the president of Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) Fuat Oktay has attended as keynote address, Senior Advocate of the Refugees International Daryl Grisgraber, Kemal Kirişci who is a Senior Fellow at the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen Association (TÜSİAD) and Director of Turkey Project in Brookings and Research Director at SETA DC Kılıç Buğra Kanat have participated as panelists.
Dr. Fuat Oktay emphasized that the organization is focused on protecting against a “lost generation” of Syrians by providing education and vocational training for refugees. Their goal is also to provide health care and education to both camp and non-camp refugees. While nearly 200,000 Syrian children are now attending school, it is only 1/3 of the total population. President Oktay asked that the international community provide more help to Turkey; as of right now, Turkey has spent over $5 billion on the crisis, while the rest of the world has only donated $200 million for the crisis. AFAD currently needs more healthcare facilities, schools, and aid for camps on the Syria side, so that the influx of refugees does not become even stronger. “International burden-sharing must happen,” he said. “This is why the [SETA report] means a lot to us.” He ended by saying that those this is a humanitarian crisis, its cause is political. The international community must solve the crisis through political means.
Daryl Grisgraber highlighted the urgency of the situation, and underlined a lot of Oktay’s points. She called the camps “five star” and said that they were the best camps she had seen in her career in humanitarian aid. Turkey, unlike some of the international community, had realized that the crisis would continue for awhile, so they have focused on longterm solutions. Turkish efforts to account for all Syrian children through birth registries have also meant that this crisis would not contribute to a lost generation of Syrians, as Oktay had mentioned before. She also noted that new border restrictions between Turkey and Syria had made it difficult for humanitarian aid workers, who often became trapped on either side. Finally, she ended on exactly Oktay’s point, that humanitarianism is only a bandaid to the problem. It will continue until the political crisis is dealt with.
Kemal Kirisci made several observations. First, he stated that the international community is recognizing what Turkey is doing for the refugees. Second, the Middle East is changing and the future challenge will be to navigate the new political realities, which will make delivering humanitarian aid more difficult. Third, the international humanitarian system has failed partly due to the multiple displacement crises around the world. More and more, regional organizations will have to take over the effort, which the Middle East lacks. Last, Kirisci argued that the chemistry is off between Turkey and the international community on burden-sharing. This necessitates a new discourse that would benefit the region as a whole. Kirisci concluded that the real solution to the refugee crises is a political deal that is, unfortunately, unlikely in the near future.
Kadir Ustun emphasized that the Turkish government and civil society have worked extremely hard to address the refugee crisis, but that large challenges remain. While AFAD is active both in and out of the camps, the refugee response does not translate to a broader national strategy to deal with the refugee challenge. Dr. Ustun asserted that humanitarian strategy cannot be separated from foreign policy. He noted that Turkey’s efforts to respond to the refugee crisis have pushed its institutions to develop more rapidly, which has been a positive outcome of the crisis. Finally, Dr. Ustun said that there is disconnect between the aid that the international community is giving and how it is delivered to the refugees. Ultimately, the international community needs to be part of the solution to Turkey’s refugee problems.
Kilic Kanat added a few points following the presentations, stating that the refugees in Turkey want a political solution to the crisis because they recognize that the current situation is not sustainable. He also noted that that there is an extremely active civilian initiative in the region that has created a network of humanitarian assistance across many Turkish cities.