Turkey key on refugee flow, fighting ISIL: UK ambassador to Turkey
Cansu Çamlıbel – ANKARATurkey is undertaking important responsibilities in terms of the refugee flow it has received and foreign fighters, according to U.K. Ambassador to Ankara Richard Moore, who underlined Turkey arresting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants was reassuring.
“First of all, Turkey has not joined the anti-ISIL coalition, Turkey is a member of the coalition from the beginning,” he said, while responding to daily Hürriyet questions on Ankara’s recent decision to open its İncirlik base to the U.S.-led coalition’s upcoming strikes on ISIL.
“It has worked on foreign fighters. It has looked after those 2 million refugees and we can’t forget that,” he said.
“Just last week I got information that someone had fled home and the family called the police. I went to the Foreign Ministry to inform the authorities. This is a regular event now, almost weekly. So Turkey has done a lot.”
Still, the last couple of weeks feel like a game changer for Turkey, he said. “And it is certainly a game changer for the coalition. Using those airbases in Turkey, the U.S. will be able to exert even more pressure on ISIL and that has to be a good thing.
“Equally important, Turkish authorities have arrested a large number of people that they suspect of being connected with ISIL who are inside Turkey. And that is reassuring because if you are going to take more aggressive military posture against ISIL, then you want to make sure that the type of atrocity we saw at Suruç… you want to make sure that you degrade their ability to do that kind of a thing. Although there have been arrests in the past, it feels like now it is on a different scale. We welcome it.”
Commenting on the foreign fighters problem that both the U.K. and Turkey have been facing, Moore said, “In our case, we don’t know the exact number but our working estimate is about 700 U.K. citizens have gone to Syria and we think about half of those came back to the U.K.”
Turkish authorities deal with almost 35 million foreigners who come to Turkey every year, the envoy highlighted. “It is a massive number. I have a lot of sympathy [for] what the Turkish authorities do and I think it is remarkable really that they are as good in finding people. So I don’t like to play the game ‘you are not doing enough’ or ‘you can do more.’ And I don’t like to hear it from other commentators. But I will tell you not a single British minister in the U.K. has criticized Turkey on this issue and nor have I,” he said.
The ambassador also highlighted the U.K.’s commitment to the train-and-equip (T&E) program.
“The U.K. is committed to playing a full part in the anti-ISIL coalition and the T&E program is an important element,” he said.
“They’re bound to be some ups and downs but, as our PM [U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron] has made clear, we are in this for the long term and we will defeat groups like ISIL and al-Nusra working in partnership with Turkey and other countries.”
“Of course we have discussed it with our Turkish friends,” he said, upon a question on plans to build a zone free of ISIL militants in Syria’s north.
“Our view has always been that a kind of full fly zone is a very very major military undertaking, [and] usually requires substantial amounts of both air cover and troops on the ground. We have always worried about the practicality of that. My prime minister has always made clear that British combat troops will not operate in Syria. Who provides those troops in Syria is still an open question,” he said.
The tie between the U.K. and Turkey is a very broad one, the ambassador said. “It is difficult to kind of synthesize it too much. But I find myself doing a lot of work around trying to get our exports up in Turkey, trying to partner with Turkish companies for third country markets. We have also done a lot of work recently with Turkish companies investing into the U.K. That seems to have got some momentum over the last two to three years. You have got Beko; they have just started an R&D center at Cambridge University. We had the huge deal with Ülker buying United Biscuits, the largest deal ever done by a Turkish company in the U.K.,” he said.
“Because Turkey is active in a lot of places where we are, everything from the EU, Cyprus, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Caucasus, Libya, Somalia… a long list of things I find myself talking about when I enter the building of [the] Foreign Ministry. We need to consult Turks on things; Turks need to consult us on things,” he said.