– The author is an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Kilis 7 Aralik University, studying the representation of refugees in the media and political discourses, the implementation of migration policies and the integration of refugees in higher education.
Globally, mass migration and refugee issues represent a significant challenge for countries and international organizations. Turkey, on the other hand, is praised for its ability to host the largest refugee community in the world today and for its resilience and ability to manage the flow of refugees from its neighbors and conflict-ridden regions. .
For Türkiye, mass migration and mass refugees are not new phenomena; the country has long hosted various displaced people from the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. A combination of factors explains the paradigm shift that Turkey has undergone. Turkey has maintained its political stability and economic growth against all odds compared to its unstable neighbors. Thanks to its candidacy for the EU and its growing prominence in world politics under the current government, it has undergone legislative reforms involving the acceptance and accommodation of refugees. These characteristics, along with other geographic and cultural characteristics, make the country an obvious choice for people fleeing death and persecution, as well as those seeking a better life.
Turkey has pursued an open-door policy
Türkiye is now home to 3.7 million Syrian refugees, except for more than 200,000 Syrians who obtained Turkish citizenship after 2012. In 2012, Türkiye continued an open-door policy and accepted all Syrians, regardless of their ethnicity and religion when the Assad regime paid none heeded opposition groups’ demands for reform and began slaughtering them with the help of Iranian militia and Russian jets .
When the Obama administration declared it a “fantasy” for Syrian opposition fighters to win the war with American artillery, it meant hunting down the regime and its patrons. The “strategic stalemate” – in the words of UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen – was created and prolonged by proxy organisations, first Daesh/ISIS, then the PKK-affiliated PYD and its YPG branch, leading to the biggest displacement crisis. While the former caused death, injury and calamity among Syrian Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis and Turkmen, as well as the destruction of Syrian cities, the latter never fought the regime, suppressed all parties Kurdish politicians and killed all dissidents, including well-known Kurdish personalities. political actors like Mashaal Temmo.
Millions of Syrians have escaped the atrocities of the regime and these terrorist groups. In order to eradicate the threats posed by these terrorist groups and to strengthen the security of its border, Turkey has erected a 4-meter-high wall along 98% of its land border with Syria and created security zones in northern Syria after 4 successful military operations.
European countries have never kept their promises
The Assad regime and Russia have strategically forced Syrians to resettle inside and outside the country, similar to what Russia has been doing in Ukraine since February 2022. Turkey’s response to this coercive pressure by opening its borders has saved millions of lives and potentially the future of Syria. Nearly half a million Syrian babies have been born in Turkey since 2011, and Turkey’s humanitarian and responsible approach to forced migration has eased the situation. Presenting the influx of Syrians as a “crisis”, particularly in 2014 and 2015, European countries shied away from their responsibility to protect by agreeing to share Turkey’s burden, but never delivered on their promises.
In the early stages of the mass exodus of Syrians, Turkey established temporary accommodation centers along the border and inside the country, most of which have been gradually closed. Today, only 50,043 Syrian refugees reside in temporary accommodation centers, and the rest of Syrian refugees live in city centers. Turkish cities now host Syrian refugees in varying proportions, with Istanbul and cities in the southeast holding the largest numbers. Kilis, a city in southeastern Turkey on the Turkish-Syrian border, has a ratio of Syrian refugees to local population of 38.4%, which is unimaginable in most European cities.
Facilities for Syrians in Turkey
All Syrian refugees registered in Turkey are granted temporary protection under Law 6458 and have access to free health care. In addition, 185 EU-funded refugee health centers are hosting Syrian refugees in 29 Turkish cities to overcome language barriers. In these centers, nearly 4,000 Syrian health personnel are employed.
To meet the basic needs of Syrian refugees, the Turkish Red Crescent, in collaboration with Halkbank, created the concept of Red Crescent Card to provide relief amounts allocated to people in need while saving time and avoiding logistics activities. Cardholders can make purchases without using cash by transferring money specified by the Turkish Red Crescent to their own Red Crescent card accounts.
Enrollment in primary education has reached 65% thanks to favorable legislation and exceptional initiatives. 730,086 Syrian students were enrolled in Turkish schools in January 2022, of which 40,547 attended kindergarten, 313,695 attended primary school, 268,753 attended secondary school, and 107,812 attended high school. Nearly 1.5 million Syrians attended free courses, mainly aimed at teaching Turkish language and vocational skills, in public education centers between 2014 and 2021.
Integration of Syrians
During the early stages of mass migration, Türkiye accepted and ensured the smooth integration of Syrian university students into the country’s higher education system by approving their certificate and statement when no other documents were available. Over time, Syrian university students under temporary protection enrolled in Turkish universities for the 2020-21 academic year totaled 47,482 or 21%, making it the largest group of international students in Turkey. This means that 9.5% of the 500,000 Syrian refugees aged 19-24 were enrolled in Turkish higher education institutions, which is higher than the global refugee enrollment rate of 5%.
In 2019, Syrian refugees created 15,159 businesses, employing over ten thousand Syrian workers. Syrian artists from Istanbul, in particular, have benefited and contributed to Turkey’s artistic and cultural life.
Voluntary return of Syrians
Overall, Turkey has the longest land border with Syria and has been most affected by the developing disaster and forced migration. Turkey has done its part in the refugee crisis; now it’s up to the West and the rest of the world. Initially, Ankara adopted an “open door policy” towards Syrians fleeing the conflict and terrorist attacks and exerted considerable efforts to persuade the Coalition, which was formed under American leadership, to stop the massacre of Syrians by the Assad regime and eliminate the threat posed first by Deash/ISIS and later by PYD/YPG, and establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria to facilitate voluntary return. However, these efforts were in vain.
Using its right to self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and customary international law and to secure its southern border and stop the influx of refugees, Turkey felt compelled to launch military operations in northern Syria in cooperation with the Syrian National Army. The safe areas reduce the need to approach the Turkish border and act as a vital barrier against new flows of migrants by providing safe haven for the civilian population and facilitating the voluntary return of Syrians to areas where life returned to normal.
* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
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