Turkey and the Syrian refugee crisis: An example for humanity
As the country which has assumed the greatest burden with the largest refugee population in the world, we are also proud to find and show ways to alleviate responsibility through coordinated action. In this context, the Turkey-EU Agreement of March 18, 2016, can serve as an example to other parts of the world coping with irregular migration. There is no doubt that the most important achievement of the agreement has been the ending of loss of lives at sea. In 2015, the Aegean Sea claimed around 1,000 lives due to dangerous journeys toward the EU. The trend was even more brutal at the beginning of 2016 with around 400 lives lost in the first three months of the year. Since March18, eight irregular migrants lost their lives in the Turkish waters of the Aegean. We will continue to do our utmost to prevent deaths in our seas. As a result, we have transformed the Aegean Sea into an area of stability and solidarity. We owe this accomplishment to our human-oriented approach which seeks a better future and destiny for those we host.
Turkey’s aim is not only to save lives and provide a safe harbor for the Syrians, but also to improve their living conditions and ensure their self-reliance. Their safety and dignity remain our priority. Consequently, we are creating favorable conditions for Syrians to actively participate in social and economic life.
Fundamental harmonization policies in Turkey are regulated by the Law on Foreigners and International Protection. In this regard, language courses, education, vocational training, labor market access, access to social and health services, social acceptance, anti-discrimination measures, xenophobia and racism are major components of Turkey’s integration policy.
When we look at the situation on the ground, first of all, the Syrian people’s ability to live outside the camps obviates their isolation. The vast majority of them live in different provinces side-by-side with Turkish society. Our citizens show empathy and welcome their Syrian sisters and brothers who have fled the war and violence in their country.
Thanks to this approach, the guest community interacts with the host community and socializes better. Hence, we have been able to overcome prejudices or acts of intolerance successfully. This is an important contribution to social cohesion and peace. We believe that anti-migration and anti-refugee movements could be overcome with such policies.
With regard to their economic integration, Turkey allowed Syrians to access the labor market as of January 2016. We also prioritize vocational training especially for the Syrian youth. To date, over 75,000 Syrians have attended these courses and started to build their future and make a life of their own.
Like Turkey, all countries should assume responsibility for supporting the integration of migrants, counteracting the phenomena of discrimination, racism and xenophobia, and strengthening the positive impact of migration on development, both in countries of origin and of destination.
For example, the countries bordering Syria, primarily Turkey, have so far assumed an unfair share of the humanitarian burden of the Syrian conflict. They should not be left alone in coping with this humanitarian crisis, which requires a genuine partnership among all members of the international community. Concerted global action is urgently needed.
Refugees should not be considered a security threat. Doing so only results in more securitization of migration and restrictive policies. Closing borders and building fences are temporary measures that ignore the core of the problem and do not change the fundamental reasons for mass migration.
Last but not least, in order to find a durable solution to the migration crisis, we have to address the “root causes” of massive waves of forced displacement and support peace processes and promote peaceful settlement of disputes in conflict-ridden areas. But even more importantly, in responding to the refugee crisis, we should never forget that we are not dealing with statistics but human beings who need protection. It is humanity’s joint responsibility to find sustainable solutions by putting our human values first.
* Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is Turkey’s foreign minister. This is an abridged version of the original in Turkish Policy Quarterly’s (TPQ) Fall 2016 issue. www.turkishpolicy.com