Turkish president’s blame game on refugees irritates the West

Turkish president’s blame game on refugees irritates the West

Syrian refugees first started coming to Turkey in limited numbers in 2011. By January 2012, the number was close to 10,000.

So whether you take 2011 or 2012 for the start of the Syrian migration wave, we are on the threshold of five years, which is critical in terms of the return of refugees to their homelands.

According to experts, refugees tend to return to their homelands in the first five years of a crisis. After five years, the likelihood of return diminishes significantly with each passing year.

Currently there are 60 million people in the world who have been displaced as a result of a conflict. Less than 50 percent are refugees. Sixty percent of these 60 million are likely to go back within five years. In the case of a protracted crisis, it takes 17 years for the refugees to go back. 

In the case of the Syrian conflict, with no immediate solution in sight, the likelihood of 4.5 million Syrian refugees’ return is not on the horizon. 

This is what Professor Kemal Kirişci told us yesterday by way of introduction at the 30th anniversary of Boğaziçi Journal, a biannual journal of Boğaziçi University.

Kirişci’s book, “The consequences of chaos: Syria’s humanitarian crisis and the failure to protect,” which he co-authored with Elizabeth Ferri, has just come out. 

The book tries to answer the question on what can be done to share the burden of Syrian refugees, something that has mainly fallen on the shoulders of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. 

“It is indeed disappointing that appeals for host governments and the U.N. system for more assistance received scant attention,” the preface of the book states. “The international community has failed miserably on the resettlement and thus burden-sharing,” said Kirişci.

But Kirişci, who has been studying migration issues for a long time, underlined also that the rhetoric used by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that the international community is not helpful at all is a myth. 

Erdoğan usually bashes the Western world that while Turkey has spent $10 billion, what it has received from the outside world is a bare half-billion dollars.

Yet the Western world did financially contribute to address the Syrian refugee crisis, even though that did not pass through Turkey’s coffers.

The United States, the European Union and individual European countries contributed, for instance, $10.8 billion between 2012 and 2015 to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (UNOCHA).

Islamic countries have contributed a mere $2.5 billion to UNOCHA. But of course, Erdoğan would not bash Islamic countries. He would not tell the world or Turkish audiences that when Turkey’s Foreign Ministry reached out to Arab countries a few years ago, asking them to send teachers for Syrian students, they were asked about the expected salaries of the teachers.

Many European countries are doing a lot individually and it would only be natural if they were to feel frustrated or irritated to hear all the time that they have been doing nothing when this is not the case.

Take the example of Sweden. It received 161,000 refugees last year. Between 2011 and 2014, this number was around 80,000 to 90,000 annually. As they are given permanent residency, which means they can bring their families, more Syrians will be going to Sweden to join their relatives. There are already as many or more Syrians in Sweden percentage wise than in Turkey, given that Sweden’s population is a mere 9.5 million. Two percent of its population are from Iraq, 17 percent of it is either first-generation Swedish or have parents born outside Sweden. The cost just last year for migration reception was around $7 billion. In addition, Sweden is the third biggest financial contributor to the UNHCR.

No doubt, the Western community has failed in producing a timely and effective response to the growing refugee issue. But that does not mean they have done nothing. 

No one will dare to tell this to Erdoğan because even if he knew, he would ignore it. After all, it suits him to consolidate his constituency by denigrating others.