HELP AT HAND

Turkey 2014 | DIPLOMACY & POLITICS | FOCUS: RESPONSE TO CRISIS

The ongoing refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war has seen Turkey reaching deep to uphold its humanitarian reputation at home and abroad.

Although the violence from the civil war in Syria has mostly been contained to the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey has openly embraced refugees fleeing from the conflict, at the risk of significant economic and social strain. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 2.5 million refugees have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, and 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. With UN and Turkish government estimates reaching near a million total displaced Syrians in the country, Turkey sits just behind Lebanon in terms of total refugees.

Turkey's primary role as a host country began in June 6, 2011, when the military siege of Jisr al-Shughour in the northwestern part of Syria ignited a major flow of refugees across the border into Turkey. By the end of 2011, Turkey had already established six camps, at a cost of around $15 million, to house thousands of refugees. It was at this stage that Turkish officials insisted on the policy that these Syrians were “guests" and not “refugees." As the fighting focused on Aleppo in July of 2012, an additional 200,000 Syrians would escape the violence by seeking refuge in Turkey.

By 2014, the Turkish government's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate and international organizations such as the UNHCR established a series of 22 refugee camps along the southeast border with Syria. Roughly 200,000 Syrians have registered with the UNHCR in these camps, while another 500,000-600,000 are living elsewhere in the southeast provinces or in Turkey's major urban areas such as Istanbul and Ankara. Beyond the government's open door policy, many Syrians have reportedly been taken in by Turkish families.

Meanwhile, Turkey has been leading the charge for more international support and unity in dealing with this major humanitarian crisis. On a macro scale, the country's response to the crisis has garnered international praise from politicians, academics, UN officials, journalists, and NGOs around the world. UN humanitarian envoy Abdullah al-Matouq commented on the issue by saying, “There is a need to provide better services in refugee camps and in that regard, l would like to thank the government of Turkey for providing the required infrastructure and providing all facilities for the NGOs and international organizations that work in Turkey."

The Kilis camp, established and organized by the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate, has particularly attracted praise for minimizing or eradicating many of the problems often associated with overcrowded, or inadequately supported camps, such as camp hygiene, access to education, violence, and vulnerability to abuse. Opened in 2012, the camp replaced tents with 2,053 containers to house over 14,000 Syrians, and also boasts amenities not often found in other camps such as electricity, satellite TV, indoor plumbing, and playgrounds and schools for the children.

Despite the positive handling of the crisis by the Turkish government, the future remains uncertain. With no end in sight to the violence in Syria, there is no telling how many more people the government and institutions can support. Without adequate international support, Turkey is bearing the brunt of the financial burden. Repatriation into Syria at the current time remains a non-option, and the other option of full integration remains only a partial solution. A third option, third-country placement, has not been met with much enthusiasm in the international community. According to Amnesty International, only 55,000 Syrian refugees out of 2.5 million have claimed asylum in the EU since the beginning of the conflict. However, while the future may be uncertain, it has become a recognized fact that Turkey has handled this humanitarian crisis as an exemplar.