Turkey’s Refugee Assistance: A Year in Review
Turkey was at the forefront of assisting refugees in 2018, supporting individuals near and far. This past year, the number of registered Syrian refugees living in Turkey surpassed 3.5 million people. This is on top of the nearly 400,000 non-Syrian refugees also residing in country. Turkey assisted with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Syria, provided aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, opened more funds to support Palestinian refugees, and, more broadly, assisted countless refugees at home or within the region. Throughout 2018, Turkey demonstrated that it is a leading country in refugee assistance. Turkey supported the safety of women and children, increased their opportunities for education, and their access to health, despite the continuing conflicts and challenges that plague the region.
Turkey expanded education opportunities for Syrian children. Through various programs, Turkey worked to achieve its goal to get all children into the education system by enrolling even more children into schools. It increased enrollment rates by building schools and providing easier access to education programs. To assist with the language barrier, Turkey offered language immersion programs for Syrian children. Moreover, Turkey trained teachers on the best ways to assist traumatized children displaced by the Syrian conflict. In collaboration with multiple organizations and with funds from the European Union, Turkey was able to provide more at-risk families with extra funds that allow them to send their children to school instead of having to work to help secure income for their family. These organizations included the Turkish Red Crescent, Turkey’s Rescue and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), and the Ministry of Education.
Aside from increasing education opportunities, Turkey helped the overwhelming number of women refugees adapt to their new lives. Turkey worked to provide safe spaces for them, train them in key skills to support their families, and provided language courses to ease their transition into Turkish society. Additionally, Turkey worked to provide Syrians with access to medical services. Millions of vaccinations were provided, hundreds of thousands of babies were safely delivered, and thousands of needed surgeries occurred in Turkey for Syrians in 2018. The Ministry of Health hired and trained Syrian medical professionals to work in health clinics that service refugees. Syrian workers provided a sense of security for Syrians in need of medical attention, both through language and cultural commonalities. The Syrian health workers also provided relief to the increase in medical services needed in Turkey. Aside from training medical workers, Turkey trained Syrians in other sectors such as agriculture. Turkey worked throughout the year to bring more Syrians into the formal economy, benefitting the local economies and increasing resilience among the refugees.
Inside Syria, Turkey worked to provide IDPs with support, such as shelter, for those who had fled the violence in Eastern Ghouta to areas in the north, including Turkish-established camps along the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey successfully brokered an agreement with Russia to ensure conflict did not erupt in Idlib, which provided security for over one million civilians who sought refuge in the city. Additionally, Turkey opened medical centers in northern Syria to increase access to necessary medical services, including vaccinations, medicine, and surgeries.
Turkey’s support for refugees reached more than Syrian refugees, including Rohingya and Palestinian refugees. As the Rohingya refugee situation began to worsen, Turkey increased their efforts in supporting the refugees in Bangladesh. Turkey opened a hospital to provide medical services to refugees, built 1,000 shelters, and provided over 10 million U.S. dollars (USD) in aid to Rohingya refugees.
Turkey became the chair for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) advisory commission this year, reaffirming its position as a leader for Palestinian refugee assistance. The U.S. ended assistance for Palestinian refugees in 2018. Turkey recognized the importance of supporting Palestinians and increased its support by committing an additional 10 million USD to UNRWA alongside its other state-sponsored programs.
Last year saw a renewed increase in the use of the land route through Turkey to Europe, a decrease in countries’ support to refugees, and the continuation of violent conflicts. Turkey acknowledged the challenges and remained committed to supporting refugees, including Syrian, Palestinian, and Rohingya refugees, as well as refugees from regional countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Turkey worked with non-profits, international institutions, and its own organizations to provide assistance throughout 2018. Turkey’s leadership will continue to be imperative as the conflicts do not appear to be waning. Turkey will remain a leader in humanitarian assistance as countries turn inward. Their efforts will show the international community that countries understand and value the importance of humanitarian assistance. It is vital for stabilization and peace in areas where supplies are low and people become desperate.