Two sides of the refugee coin

Two sides of the refugee coin

Refugees are pouring in from civil war-torn Syria and Turkey is building seven more refugee camps. According to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) last week the number of Syrians who sought refuge in either Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon or Jordan increased by 30,000, bringing the overall number of refugees in these countries over 200,000, though the U.N. agency had earlier estimated that by yearend the number of refugees would be around 186,000.

In Turkey, apart from those who “officially” entered the country and “integrated” into Turkish society, there are already around 70,000 refugees. Already Turkey is in preparations to erect seven new refugee camps in Hatay and Gaziantep provinces and according to Turkish officials up to 10,000 people were packed and waiting on the Syrian side of the joint border because no space was available in Turkish camps for new refugees.

The most-lecturing, almond-mustached, master of long sentences Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has hinted in a recent TV interview that Turkey could host maximum 100,000 refugees. What will happen then? Turkish officials whisper that perhaps with or without a U.N. mandate a five-kilometer-wide buffer zone will be established along the Turkish-Syrian border, and some camps will be established in that buffer zone.

People fleeing war regions and seeking shelter in neighboring countries or in safer places in their own homeland is of course a very serious humanitarian problem. When a merciless civil war is continuing in next-door Syria, Turkey cannot remain indifferent to people seeking refuge. Should Turkey try to do more for the refugees? Of course, that is a humanitarian obligation. Particularly if Turkey is supportive of one of the two sides of this civil war in Syria – that is, the rebel forces – it cannot turn a blind eye to the humanitarian byproduct of the civil war.

But, there is another face of this problem as well. Turkey is unable to control the refugee camps. When it tries to consolidate its control in the camps, the “civilian refugees” can go to the extent of shooting at Turkish policemen. Furthermore, complaints are increasing in cities and towns near the existing refugee camps about Turkey’s failure to enforce control over the camps. With the residents of the camps freely moving in and out, particularly in Hatay, complaints are mounting that the city has come under occupation. This new occupation force of long- and dark-bearded men is reportedly refusing to pay at shops and committing vandalism. Worse, down in the Aksaray district of Istanbul, there is apparently also a Syrian occupation.

Refugees or displaced persons could become a burden and might not be appreciated much even by the local population, even though they might belong to the same nation, religion, ethnicity or whatever. Yet, it is a humanitarian duty to open hearts and minds to people seeking refuge. The duty of a state, however, should be to safeguard the security and well being of both its people and the refugees by enforcing its control over the camps.

What if tomorrow camps are established inside Syria and with even more lax security measures those camps – as is very likely – turn into facilities nourishing terrorists?