Think Tanks: Turkey’s Syr­ian refugees’ predica­ment, By İsa Afa­can

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - ASST. PROF. İSA AFA­CAN Staff writer

Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter re­cently ex­pressed his frus­tra­tions with the chal­lenge of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid de­liv­ery to refugees. ‘The in­ter­na­tional sys­tem is fail­ing […] We are suf­fer­ing as neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. In Turkey now, there are 700,000 refugees, we don’t know when they will go back home. We spent $3 bil­lion. […] We are suf­fer­ing and Syr­ian peo­ple are suf­fer­ing.’ In fact, how­ever, the refugee is­sue re­flects a wider prob­lem of Turkey’s Syria pol­icy

A re­cent joint re­port by the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and the In­ter­na­tional Strate­gic Re­search Or­ga­ni­za­tion (USAK) un­der­lines Turkey’s refugee predica­ment and ad­dresses the lim­its of hos­pi­tal­ity to­ward refugees. When the Syr­ian cri­sis be­gan in March 2011, many in the Turk­ish govern­ment as­sumed that the cri­sis would soon be re­solved and refugees would re­turn home be­fore long. The ap­proach was that Turkey should as­sist what it terms its “Syr­ian guests” gen­er­ously; host them well so that Turk­ish soft power would be en­hanced due to their pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing their stay. Tent cities were built close to the bor­der -- in di­rect con­trast to the stan­dard UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR) prac­tice of es­tab­lish­ing refugee camps at least 50 kilo­me­ters off the bor­der as a ba­sic se­cu­rity pre­cau­tion. Most prob­a­bly the govern­ment as­sumed it would be a short-term is­sue; the stay of Syr­i­ans would be tem­po­rary.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, 21 tent/con­tainer camps were built, cur­rently host­ing about 200,000 refugees. The re­main­ing 500,000 to 800,000 Syr­i­ans live in Turkey’s cities by their own means but without ad­e­quate govern­ment regis­tra­tion or over­sight. In ad­di­tion, Turkey pro­vides aid to 135,000 in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple (IDPs) in north­ern Syria. The Brook­ings-USAK re­port states that the camps of­fer “five-star ser­vices” and look like “well-es­tab­lished towns, with pri­mary and sec­ondary schools, health clin­ics, com­mu­nity cen­ters, su­per­mar­kets, play­grounds and even laun­dry rooms. Refugees were given re­frig­er­a­tors and stoves; ac­com­mo­da­tions had hot wa­ter and, in some cases, tele­vi­sions and air con­di­tion­ing.”

The re­port notes that in in­ter­views with refugees all ini­tially wanted to re­turn to their own coun­try. How­ever, ris­ing threats of rad­i­cal groups and pro­longed civil war changed their plans. Refugees are ex­pected to con­tinue to cross the bor­der in the com­ing months as the con­flict con­tin­ues, and yet more Syr­i­ans will seek refuge in Turkey.

Ac­cord­ing to some es­ti­mates, the num­ber of Syr­ian refugees will reach 2 mil­lion by the end of 2014. Given the scope and sever­ity of the prob­lem, the re­port dis­cusses Turkey’s five ma­jor chal­lenges:

(1) How and to what ex­tent Turkey af­fords to con­tinue pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance and pro­tec­tion to an in­ces­santly in­creas­ing num­ber of refugees. On the one hand, build­ing an­other 40 to 50 camps would fur­ther

in­crease the al­ready huge ex­penses of the camps, a fur­ther strain for the Turk­ish trea­sury. This would any­way not be enough to ac­com­mo­date all the refugees. Without this, how­ever, the vast ma­jor­ity of refugees would end up in the cities, bring­ing enor­mous pres­sure on al­readys­tretched bor­der cities like Gaziantep, Kilis, Hatay and Şan­lıurfa. The longer the refugees stay, the more the ques­tion of in­te­gra­tion vs. fur­ther ac­com­mo­da­tion of refugees would raise se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions of iden­tity, cit­i­zen­ship and scarcity of re­sources.

(2) Turkey ini­tially did not de­mand in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance, and boasted that it could han­dle mat­ters alone. As the cri­sis deep­ened, Turkey’s ef­forts to mo­bi­lize the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity have not kept pace with the num­ber of refugees. The re­port sug­gests, “it will be crit­i­cal for the Turk­ish govern­ment to switch from an ac­cusatory-sham­ing lan­guage [against other coun­tries, mainly Western] to a nar­ra­tive that is both much more con­struc­tive and more re­al­is­tic.”

(3) While pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance to cross-bor­der refugees, Turkey did not want to tan­gle with Syria’s sovereignty. Turkey uti­lized a “zero-point de­liv­ery pol­icy” in north­ern Syria, where Turkey’s Dis­as­ter and Emer­gency Man­age­ment Direc­torate (AFAD) and the Turk­ish Red Cres­cent (Kızılay) trans­port aid to the “zero point” at the bor­der. The Hu­man­i­tar­ian Aid Foun­da­tion (IHH) then de­liv­ers it to IDP camps in Syria. IHH has be­come an ef­fec­tive cross-bor­der char­ity, but more is needed. The re­port sug­gests Turkey should di­ver­sify its reach into Syria for as­sis­tance through the UN agen­cies and other in­ter­na­tional char­ity or­ga­ni­za­tions “to en­sure its ef­fec­tive­ness, trans­parency, and se­cu­rity.”

(4) The re­port con­tends that the con­cept of se­cu­rity re­gard­ing the refugee ques­tion should be un­der­stood in its broad­est sense, not only from a nar­row tra­di­tional per­spec­tive. It gives the ex­am­ple that some camps are lo­cated di­rectly next to the bor­der, and ex­posed to stray bul­lets and op­pos­ing groups in Syria. In ad­di­tion, Syr­i­ans’ liv­ing in the cities among Turks may spark con­flicts em­a­nat­ing from sec­tar­ian, eth­nic and cul­tural dif­fer­ences, ex­ac­er­bated by the per­cep­tion of Syr­i­ans uti­liz­ing al­ready-stretched govern­ment re­sources. What’s more, the safety and well­be­ing of refugees may also be in jeop­ardy due to ex­ploita­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion and traf­fick­ing, par­tic­u­larly among vul­ner­a­ble seg­ments like women and chil­dren.

(5)The re­port chal­lenges the ear­lier no­tion that the Syr­ian con­flict is sim­ple and com­posed of “the op­pres­sor and the vic­tims.” Rather, it as­serts that the num­ber of “op­pres­sors” has mul­ti­plied, and now in­cludes some

rad­i­cal groups as­so­ci­ated with the op­po­si­tion.

The se­cond re­port is “Syr­ian Refugees in Turkey,” writ­ten by Şe­nay Öz­den. The Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy Cen­tre (MPC) re­port pro­vides valu­able in­for­ma­tion about the evo­lu­tion of the refugee cri­sis, and of­fers in-depth per­spec­tives about its scope through open-ended in­ter­views with ac­tivists, Free Syr­ian Army (FSA) mem­bers, and IDPs. Af­ter go­ing through the de­bate on why Turkey used the con­cept “guests” in­stead of “refugees,” she ar­gues that Turkey em­ployed a “tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion regime,” which com­prises three prin­ci­ples: (1) an open-bor­der pol­icy; (2) no forcible re­turns (non-re­foule­ment); (3) regis­tra­tion with the Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties and sup­port in­side the borders of the camps. She ob­serves that “the Turk­ish state has not


car­ried out a pol­icy to­wards Syr­i­ans based on a dis­course of rights, but rather one based on ‘gen­eros­ity’.” While she em­pha­sizes what refugees say about the higher qual­ity of camp con­di­tions in Turkey com­pared to those in Jordan and Lebanon, she also notes com­plaints about the ser­vices in the camps. Refugees stay­ing in the tents in­di­cated that some tents were not suit­able for winter con­di­tions, for ex­am­ple. This raises the ques­tion that there may be some dif­fer­ences among camps, es­pe­cially be­tween the con­tainer and tent camps.

Through the in­ter­views, Öz­den raises an­other is­sue: the em­ploy­ment of Syr­i­ans. Even though it is not le­gal for for­eign­ers to work in Turkey without a work per­mit, many Syr­i­ans (their num­bers are un­known) work in restau­rants, fac­to­ries, con­struc­tion sites and farms, gen­er­ally un­der ex­ploita­tive con­di­tions. Öz­den in­di­cates that the av­er­age salary is TL 15 (less than $7) per day; about the half the min­i­mum wage in Turkey. This also raises the ques­tion of un­fair work­force com­pe­ti­tion, where em­ploy­ers be­gin choos­ing Syr­i­ans over the lo­cal la­bor force, thereby con­tribut­ing to un­em­ploy­ment among Turk­ish cit­i­zens.

The Turk­ish govern­ment also al­lowed Syr­ian univer­sity stu­dents to en­roll in classes at seven state uni­ver­si­ties in the re­gion, without pro­vid­ing proof of prior univer­sity at­ten­dance in Syria. Since the com­pe­ti­tion for univer­sity places in Turkey is high, with en­try de­ter­mined through per­for­mance in a na­tion­wide exam, the state’s pol­icy of al­low­ing Syr­ian stu­dents to reg­is­ter at Turk­ish uni­ver­si­ties with nei­ther an exam nor pa­per­work as pre­req­ui­site trig­gered anti-im­mi­gra­tion and anti-refugee sen­ti­ments among many Turks. The MPC re­port fur­ther doc­u­ments the work of the char­i­ties IHH and Kimse Yok Mu? in aid­ing refugees, and ar­gues that most NGOs pro­vide as­sis­tance to Syr­i­ans liv­ing out­side camps, with refugees in the camps taken care of by Turk­ish govern­ment’s re­sources.

The third re­port on this sub­ject is a com­men­tary by An­thony H. Cordes­man, ti­tled “Syria, Geneva II, and the Era of ‘Least Bad Op­tions’,” pro­duced for the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CSIS). Cordes­man con­tends that the Geneva II meet­ings would not garner any change in Syr­ian im­passe. For him, “As­sad will not step down, the op­po­si­tion will re­main di­vided and con­tinue to be­come more ex­treme, and out­side states will be as di­vided in their goals as be­fore the meet­ing.” Tak­ing a US-cen­tric stand­point, Cordes­man ar­gues that the US could have played a de­ci­sive role in aid­ing the mod­er­ate op­po­si­tion groups ear­lier in the cri­sis, but “that win­dow of op­por­tu­nity” has al­ready passed.

There are no good op­tions left for Syria, he claims. Tak­ing cues from “the Arab Spring” coun­tries like Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Tu­nisia and Syria, Cordes­man main­tains that power strug­gles within a failed au­thor­i­tar­ian state pro­vide few ex­am­ples of tran­si­tional pol­i­tics and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. The op­po­si­tion groups in these au­thor­i­tar­ian states are of­ten “sup­pressed, con­spir­a­to­rial, ide­o­log­i­cal/re­li­gious, and some­times vi­o­lent.” Like open­ing Pan­dora’s Box, re­mov­ing the au­thor­i­tar­ian regime that gen­er­ally caps sec­tar­ian, eth­nic and tribal ten­sions un­leashes frozen con­flicts, he states, and thereby sig­nif­i­cantly al­ters so­cial and po­lit­i­cal co­he­sion. Even af­ter the re­moval of the au­thor­i­tar­ian regime, the new govern­ment sys­tem does not be­come demo­cratic. Rather, Cordes­man ar­gues, “post-au­thor­i­tar­ian pol­i­tics threat­ened to be a grim rep­e­ti­tion of the post-colo­nial pe­riod’s his­tory of mak­ing democ­racy into an au­thor­i­tar­ian end game of ‘one man, one vote, one time’.” Tak­ing his cue from ear­lier US in­ter­ven­tions and


their out­comes, Cordes­man urges the US to limit do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional ex­pec­ta­tions over US ca­pa­bil­i­ties and prom­ises. For him, “the least bad op­tion” may be pa­tiently en­cour­ag­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes to re­form grad­u­ally, de­spite many flaws and road­blocks in the process, rather than tak­ing a short­cut to “in­stant democ­racy” through in­ter­ven­tion. For the US, he con­cludes, “it does not take much re­al­ism to sug­gest that work­ing with a part­ner -- for all the com­pro­mises and dif­fer­ences in­volved -- is bet­ter than work­ing with an un­sta­ble mess.”

Given the highly cau­tious US pol­icy on Syria, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama may have heeded ar­gu­ments like those Cordes­man raises here. The main thrust of the ar­gu­ment is that the Syr­ian cri­sis is best left to op­pos­ing par­ties and no that sig­nif­i­cant US in­ter­ven­tion should be ex­pected.

This brings one back to the ini­tial premise: Given the pro­tracted na­ture of Syr­ian civil war, the re­sul­tant refugee cri­sis is likely to swell fur­ther. It is of ut­most im­por­tance for Turkey to de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive plan for the refugee ques­tion, and re­view and re­vise its as­sump­tions and ob­jec­tives re­gard­ing the di­rec­tion of its Syria pol­icy.


Turk­ish NGOs have been of great help in deal­ing with the Syr­ian refugees flood­ing Turkey.


When the Syr­ian cri­sis be­gan in March 2011, many in the Turk­ish govern­ment as­sumed that the cri­sis would soon be re­solved and refugees would re­turn home be­fore long.


The ‘tent cities’ pro­vide more than shel­ter: this Adana camp also pro­vides ed­u­ca­tion, so­cial, cul­tural and sort­ing fa­cil­i­ties for 10,000 refugees.

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