The civil war has driven 6.5 million Syrians from their country; nearly 2 million now reside in Turkey. While Turkish refugee camps have garnered much attention due to their quality, the majority of Syrian refugees reside outside the camps. In urban areas, the government, aid agencies and NGOs struggle to meet the needs of an-ever growing number of refugees. Please join us for a panel discussion on the refugee crisis in Turkey and its impact on social, political and economic dynamics in the country.
Fuat Oktay, President, Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD)
Kilic B. Kanat, Research Director, SETA DC
Daryl Grisgraber, Senior Advocate, Refugees International
Kemal Kirisci, TÜSİAD Senior Fellow and Director of Turkey Project, Brookings
Kadir Ustun, Executive Director, SETA DC
Grace Harter and Sally Judson
Fuat Oktay emphasized that the organization is focused on protecting against a “lost generation” of Syrians by providing education and vocational training for refugees. Their goal is also to provide health care and education to both camp and non-camp refugees. While nearly 200,000 Syrian children are now attending school, it is only 1/3 of the total population. President Oktay asked that the international community provide more help to Turkey; as of right now, Turkey has spent over $5 billion on the crisis, while the rest of the world has only donated $200 million for the crisis. AFAD currently needs more healthcare facilities, schools, and aid for camps on the Syria side, so that the influx of refugees does not become even stronger. “International burden-sharing must happen,” he said. “This is why the [SETA report] means a lot to us.” He ended by saying that those this is a humanitarian crisis, its cause is political. The international community must solve the crisis through political means.
Daryl Grisgraber highlighted the urgency of the situation, and underlined a lot of Oktay’s points. She called the camps “five star” and said that they were the best camps she had seen in her career in humanitarian aid. Turkey, unlike some of the international community, had realized that the crisis would continue for awhile, so they have focused on longterm solutions. Turkish efforts to account for all Syrian children through birth registries have also meant that this crisis would not contribute to a lost generation of Syrians, as Oktay had mentioned before. She also noted that new border restrictions between Turkey and Syria had made it difficult for humanitarian aid workers, who often became trapped on either side. Finally, she ended on exactly Oktay’s point, that humanitarianism is only a bandaid to the problem. It will continue until the political crisis is dealt with.
Kemal Kirisci made several observations. First, he stated that the international community is recognizing what Turkey is doing for the refugees. Second, the Middle East is changing and the future challenge will be to navigate the new political realities, which will make delivering humanitarian aid more difficult. Third, the international humanitarian system has failed partly due to the multiple displacement crises around the world. More and more, regional organizations will have to take over the effort, which the Middle East lacks. Last, Kirisci argued that the chemistry is off between Turkey and the international community on burden-sharing. This necessitates a new discourse that would benefit the region as a whole. Kirisci concluded that the real solution to the refugee crises is a political deal that is, unfortunately, unlikely in the near future.
Kadir Ustun emphasized that the Turkish government and civil society have worked extremely hard to address the refugee crisis, but that large challenges remain. While AFAD is active both in and out of the camps, the refugee response does not translate to a broader national strategy to deal with the refugee challenge. Dr. Ustun asserted that humanitarian strategy cannot be separated from foreign policy. He noted that Turkey’s efforts to respond to the refugee crisis have pushed its institutions to develop more rapidly, which has been a positive outcome of the crisis. Finally, Dr. Ustun said that there is disconnect between the aid that the international community is giving and how it is delivered to the refugees. Ultimately, the international community needs to be part of the solution to Turkey’s refugee problems.
Kilic Kanat added that the refugees in Turkey want a political solution to the crisis because they recognize that the current situation is not sustainable. He also noted that that there is an extremely active civilian initiative in the region that has created a network of humanitarian assistance across many Turkish cities.
The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) at Washington, D.C. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. dedicated to innovative studies on national, regional, and international issues concerning Turkey and US-Turkey relations.