Turkey needs Jordanian help
The population of Jordan is less than 7 million, in comparison to Turkey’s more than 70 million. However, the 1 million Syrian refugees might have been less of a problem in Jordan than in Turkey. This is what I have been thinking about for a few days now. Jordan knows how to cope with a refugee problem, but Turkey does not. Compared to Turks, Jordanians know how to integrate refugees into their lives. Turks do not. Around March 2011, when the Syrian uprising was just an uprising and not a civil war, Turks saw Syrian refugees as their temporary guests. Our prime minister thought like that, too. The number of Syrian refugees had not yet reached six figures, mind you. We had so many red lines to not be crossed in those days. Now, after three years, Turks are still seeing Syrian refugees as a temporary presence. In typical Turkish style, we seldom learn from experience.
Just look at the numbers. Jordan has a population of around 7 million. (Let’s not talk about the early Armenian refugees who fled Ottoman lands at the end of World War I.) There are still 2 million registered Palestinian refugees. Some of them are children and grandchildren of the refugees who fled after the Nakba in the 1940s. There were about a million Iraqi refugees, especially after the second American operation in the region. Then came the Syrians after 2011. Their number is now around 600,000 and their camps grow by the day. Jordanians know how to deal with this. They have dealt with it many times before.
Look at the numbers in Turkey. Currently, there are about 600,000 registered refugees in the country. Add to that around 150,000 unregistered ones. Now, with Aleppo burning down, one might expect around 300,000 more to come this year. This will add up to the total of a million. But a million among 75 million Turks is more than a million among 7 million Jordanians. I was looking at how we are trying to cope with the situation in Turkey. First of all, we just do not have an agency specializing in dealing with the refugee situation. Currently, Turkey’s Disaster Relief Agency (AFAD) is dealing with the case of the Syrian refugees. They only know, however, how to provide shelter and food for temporarily displaced people. The Syrians they are taking care of need permanent placement into a new society.
Do not get me wrong. The AFAD is doing alright. But the situation is not confined to their area of expertise any more. The Syrian crisis is probably going to be with us for a long time. At least for a decade or two, these millions of refugees who fled to Turkey are going to stay here, as witnessed in Jordan’s case. Hence, the nature of the problem is evolving. It was temporary at the outset, but became permanent. We are soon going to have about a million displaced people in our southern provinces for good. This is no longer a humanitarian aid issue; this now has the potential to turn into a problem of economic and social development, labor force, security, poverty and education. 100,000 kids need to be educated. They are going to get married in Turkey. They will work in Turkey. They will need new homes. They will bring up their children. One thing looks to be certain: Unlike the Afghan refugees of earlier periods, Syrians do not consider Turkey as a transitory country.
An external problem is turning into a domestic Turkish problem now. A regional development problem is rapidly emerging. If we do not change our way of handling the situation at once, that is. This is a disaster relief operation no more, and Turkey does not have a refugee agency. Unlike Jordanians, Turks do not know how to integrate refugees. Maybe we should ask for our Jordanian brothers’ help.