Growing discontent against Syrians in Turkey

Growing discontent against Syrians in Turkey

I was reading the key findings of the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends 2014 survey the other day. One of them is Turks’ growing discontent with immigrants. People do not seem to be happy with the way their government is handling the Syrian crisis. Some 75 percent of respondents to the 2014 survey see immigration as a problem, up 29 points from 2013. That increase should ring alarm bells. That is also why the American plan to eradicate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is in Ankara’s interest. Let me explain.

There has been much traffic on the Turkish-Syrian border lately. Jihadists are moving toward Syria while Syrians are moving toward Turkey. Ordinary Syrians, and lately Iraqis, seek shelter from jihadi onslaught. According to U.N. reports, there are now 9 million displaced Syrians, which is no less than 45 percent of Syria’s population. A third of those displaced have become refugees by leaving their country.

After Lebanon, Turkey is the second most common destination for those people, the third being Jordan. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is now approaching 1.5 million, half of whom are in special camps in the border region. When compared with the 77 million Turks, 1.5 million refugees is a mere 2 percent. That would amount to 25 percent of Lebanese and 20 percent of Jordanians, so one might think that Turkey should have an easier time dealing with the situation. Yes and no. Turkey’s government is wealthier and better situated to set up camps, but Jordan and Lebanon have first-hand experience with refugees. As Arab countries, they can also absorb the influx of Syrians to some extent.

Turkey has not done anything of this sort in its modern history, and people are finding it hard to adjust.  
According to the 2014 Transatlantic Trends survey, 60 percent of Turks say immigrants are coming to Turkey to seek asylum. This however, is only true in principle, not in law. Turkey made an amendment to the Geneva protocol in 1961, stating that it accepts only those seeking asylum as a result of “events in Europe.” That is generally interpreted to refer to events such as the Holocaust. It also means that anyone who isn’t fleeing humanitarian disasters in Europe cannot be classified as a refugee in Turkey. They may only be classified as “temporary asylum seekers.”

In Turkey, the percentage of people who think immigrants are asylum seekers is three times the EU figure. So, Turks believe that immigrants are here to stay. And around 70 percent of Turks disapprove of their government’s handling of immigration. That looks much like the 70 percent of Americans disapproving of their government’s handling of immigration. The difference of course, is that the US has been dealing with immigration for the better part of the past century, while Turkey is getting a crash course. But no matter what happens next, the issue is here to stay.

The coalition against ISIL might stem the tide of refugees. The most important thing is to stop the two-way traffic on the border. If there is one thing the government should focus on, it should be this:

No more jihadists going to Syria, less Syrians coming to Turkey. The bigger the safe zone is in northern Syria, the fewer Syrians will want to pack up and move. Turks are not used to permanent guests, and having more of them will not make it easier to adapt.