AFAD’s projects for the 3 billion euro fund presented to EU
Barçın Yinanç - firstname.lastname@example.orgThe three billion euro fund that the EU has decided to provide for Syrians in Turkey will be mainly used for their education and health needs, president of the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) says. The projects prepared by AFAD have already been presented to the EU, adds AFAD President Fuat Oktay, while the government’s new strategy on mid- and long-term policies concerning Syrians in Turkey will be finalized in a month or two.
Can you give us a general picture about the latest situation?
The arrivals started in 2011 and have grown in number. We had an open door policy, and to this day, that policy has not changed. By 2012, we decided to endorse a different approach. We wanted to change the camp approach to a city approach. We also tried another experience; while the migrants were escaping a dictatorship, we tried to set up an environment where they could speak for themselves. So they had their own elections within the camps.
We established AFKEN (a refugee camp management system), which is a 24/7 online system monitoring all administrative work and operations in the center. AFKEN received the U.N. Public Service award.
As of today we have 26 camps and there are approximately 285,000 Syrians in the camps. Our current capacity is around 340,000. Currently the total number of Syrians biometrically registered is 2,715,000.
What are the challenges you are facing in terms of registration? Some of the culprits of the bomb attacks in Turkey were registered Syrians.
Our interior ministry as well as the directorate general of migration management that operates under it are working very seriously on that matter. It would be really wrong of me to say some mistakes were made or that there have been some short comings. Despite all the problems, we are talking about a process that has been going on for five years and I think Turkey has administered it in a rather successful way.
What do you think Turkey has done differently?
Some 2.7 million people living in a certain parts of the country in the course of 5 years without a major problem tell us that there is a Turkish model. What is behind this model? First, a humanitarian approach. We have never had an approach based on “we are doing this and we expect that in return.” Second, the local populations have been very welcoming.
Third, we had a systematic approach. It was never a populist one. We established a sustainable system. But above all, there is a serious political stance. The political will of the government, the president, the prime minister has opened the way in front. And all that had a cost. As of today it is more than $9-9.5 billion. This is based on criteria set by the U.N.; it includes the spending for the camps and health services for those who are living outside the camps as well.
I recall some transparency problems about the camps. Don’t you think keeping them open to visitors would strengthen your credibility? I also recall that foreign NGOs were not allowed to work inside the camps.
All camps are open, not just a few. The reason why only some camps are being visited is this: certain camps are preferred because they are closer to airports. Turkey is much more open than any other country. And all of our camps are being monitored by the U.N., from their very first day.
Indeed, in the beginning we did come across these questions, especially from the international NGOs. What we told them was “Look we know their [Syrians’] needs. And we need to establish a relationship based on trust.” Those who are familiar with NGOs know that there is some kind of a competition between them. We want to focus on their needs and we do not want that friendly rivalry between NGOs and countries to divert our attention.
A year and a half later, all of them came back and appreciated the system we set up. This is what happened afterwards: countries and NGOs wanted to provide their support themselves and we understand that; donors would like to be visible. And what they currently see is that there is a totally transparent structure in the camps. They appreciate that. Every cent spent is registered online and monitored 24/7.
It is known that AFAD is exempt from the tender law, for instance.
Every expenditure is accountable. You cannot find anything that is not monitored by a system.
First of all, we said that we will not do the spending from the center for two reasons: we want the spending to be done in the cities populated by Syrians. If those cities are handling the burden of hosting them, then they should benefit from the opportunity that comes with it, in the economic sense. This will also revive the local economy and locals won’t see the refugees as a burden. Second, as the spending is under the control of the governors and we spend equally in each city, this provides us a second control mechanism. We provide the same service in every camp and you can automatically compare them. So we are all the time calculating the costs and there is friendly competition to bring down the costs.
So currently 42 foreign NGOs are giving out working permits from our interior ministry. They also have the possibility to work outside the camps, but they are working opportunities in the camps too. So there are no longer any problems. But when we look at the total international assistance including the U.N., it amounts to $461 million dollar and that is really very little.
Now that even the cabinet members are talking about the integration of Syrians, what are the plans for the future?
No one would like to live outside of their homeland. They don’t want to live in Turkey or go to Europe but their country is not livable right now. No one sees that light in Syria. So they are in search of a future for themselves and their children. That’s what lies behind their fleeing to Europe.
Under the instruction from our prime minister, a committee made up of relevant ministries and headed by Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan is preparing a strategy report. As AFAD, we are active in this work and we serve as undersecretaries. This is about the future of Syrians. It will set the framework that will determine the government’s Syrian migrant policy in the mid- and long-term, including structural measures.
It will provide a binding, high level policy under which we will have policies pertaining to education, health, security, relations with the NGOs, etc. All the issues that pertain to the future of Syrians will be included and it will be finalized within a month or two.
What is your expectation? That those living in camps will be resettled?
We are discussing all issues and asking the input of all stakeholders including universities and NGOs. When it will be finalized, you will have the answers to all these questions.
What should be the priority in this strategy?
We have observed lately that we have an environment where terrorist organizations from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to the People’s Protection Units (PYD) are extremely active due to the turmoil and intensive conflicts in the region. Whether we like it or not, we are passing through times in which Turkey’s sensitive security politics have priority. We will probably enter a period where the social and adoption dimension as far as the Syrians’ future is concerned will take priority, without obviously neglecting the security dimension. And adaption goes two ways, for as much as we need them to adapt, we need to understand them too. So we also have projects that promote locals to understand the Syrians’ culture too.
Countries that have managed correctly migration movement have turned it into an opportunity. This is also the case with our history.
How do you think three million Syrians could be turned into an opportunity?
If we can manage it well, they can add richness. If they can turn into a community that can earn its living, that will turn into economic richness and the government has already taken the decision to give work permits to Syrians. We keep telling the world that the private sector needs to play an active role by investing in cities where migrants live. That could be a win-win, both for private companies and migrants. We also have certain sectors where our citizens do not want to work. But we also do not want to open the door to abuse. In terms of social issues, diversity is always richness. We should not see differences as threats.
Will AFAD’s role diminish in this process?
This is one of the issues we are discussing. We are present in emergency situations. In the new concept, all relevant ministries and institutions have already assumed their responsibilities, like the Ministry of Education. Some 300,000 children are receiving education under the management of the ministry. But 30 percent of Syrians are of school age. We have also told UNICEF that they cannot assume they have fulfilled their responsibility by constructing a few prefabricated schools. This is a populist approach. As the contribution we were expecting from abroad is not coming, we are planning to include all the children in the education system by 2017.
One of the aims is for those who are of the appropriate age to start learning Turkish curriculum together with Turkish children.
What will be the role of AFAD in the Turkey-EU cooperation scheme?
The EU has understood this is not just Turkey’s problem. There is a project on sharing responsibility, but this has never been a negotiation based on money. We have been doing the necessary work and prepared the projects that will use the three billion euro fund.
These projects have been presented to the Netherlands, which currently holds the EU Presidency.
The priority will be the investments on education and health. We have certain cities where 400,000 Syrians live, like Antep and Urfa. Also, think of cities where the population has been doubled but you continue to give the same services with the same infrastructure. There are projects to answer the infrastructure needs of these cities. There are also some projects on new camps, or transforming tent cities into container cities.
Where are we in terms of the resettlement of Syrians in Europe?
This is under the responsibility of the general directorate of migration. But Turkey has certain sensitivities. Those who receive refugees from Turkey cannot make their choices according to educational level or health situation or other criteria.
You don’t want cherry picking.
Exactly. Just as we don’t do it, we will never let the EU or any other country do that. “We will get those with better educations and better health conditions and leave the rest to Turkey.” We never had that kind of an approach; we won’t let others to have it either.
What are your estimations as to new refuge flows from Syria?
New flows are possible and the risk is currently very high. Russia has done its heaviest bombing after the cease-fire. The cease-fire is very fragile. We have our contingency planning; Aleppo and İdlib are places with a high risk of mass migration. There are additional flows that can come from deep inside Syria like Raqqa. Estimates place the number at 600,000.
What is the situation about your cross border operations?
Our work continues. Turkey has a certain capacity and in order to encourage people to stay in their homelands, we sent humanitarian aid to Syria via NGOs and the Red Crescent, to what we call the zero point on the border. This is being done with information compiled by the U.N. from Kilis and Hatay.
There are ten camps that have been established across Kilis under the monitoring of our governors. There is an intention to act together with Germany and Holland has shown interest too. One of the ten articles that has been made public by our prime minister and Merkel is that AFAD and its German interlocutor, THW, will work together in terms of intensifying sending humanitarian aid to those regions.
How are your works affected by Russia’s involvement in Syria?
There is a serious problem in terms of security dimension after Russia’s intervention and especially in the humanitarian aid corridor. And all this is reflecting back to us as migration movement, which in turn will reflect itself as migration movement for the world. So the main strategy should be to tackle the problem at the source. What Turkey has said about establishing a safe zone was perceived as something political but actually it was a humanitarian approach. The world did not want to understand that at first but the EU now understands it. There are 8 million internally displaced people in Syria and they are a potential risk; not only for Turkey but for the world.
Who is Fuat Oktay?
Fuat Oktay was born in 1964 in Yozgat-Çekerek. He completed his bachelor’s degree in business management in Turkey, and received his MBA and PhD in the United States. He has a master’s in manufacturing engineering and a PhD in industrial engineering.
Throughout his stay in the U.S., he worked in the automotive industry with companies such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. He provided consultancy services to small and medium sized enterprises, including KOSGEB. In some of these companies, he has served in the capacity of director general, deputy chairman and board member.
In the early 2000s, he specialized in enterprise-based crisis management, and worked as vice-dean and head of the business management department at Beykent University.
Along with working in the field of aviation, Oktay has served as deputy director general responsible for strategic planning and business development, sales and marketing, production planning and information technology, at Turkish Airlines. He has been the president of AFAD since 2012.