I was visiting my mom in Antakya recently.
We were walking in the Kuseyr hill and could hear sounds from the other bank of the Asi River (Orontes), but we could hardly distinguish whether they were artillery shots in Syria, barrel bombs from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or strikes by Russian aircrafts. Occasionally, the raking sounds of a machine gun found us. The sound of the war was coming from very near, not from a distance. The air was tense and as heavy as lead in this region, where Turkmen and Arab villages intermingle on both sides of the river. Syrian refuges were collecting the olives on the ground to survive. Ahead, there were women picking wild herbs.
On the way back to İstanbul, I spoke to representatives of a charity from North Carolina who have gone to Jordan and Lebanon. The refugees there live in misery, they said. They noted that the heaviest burden is on Turkey and they were aware of the atmosphere in Europe. They know about emerging xenophobic and racist forces. “The Germans have adopted a good stance,” one of them says. “God bless them,” the other adds.
It is true that Ankara and Berlin are the two capitals that have adopted the best and boldest attitude to the Syrian refugees crisis. God bless them. Ankara’s move to give Syrian refugees the right to work is the correct decision, albeit coming late, because many refugees were already working but were being employed like slaves, working for very little money in tomato greenhouses, construction sites and restaurants. Their being given the right to work will enable them to earn at least the minimum wage. The approach of the Turkish government and opposition parties to the Syrian refugees is praiseworthy. We must hurry with regard to the integration of the 2 million refugees and 700,000 Syrian children who are of school age. These people are considered to have left permanently by Assad’s Syria. Assad does not want them to return. Even if a cease-fire or peace is attained in Syria, these children won’t leave İzmir, İstanbul, Muğla and Antalya. The best approach is to integrate them within society as soon as possible.
We have to ensure their integration within the social system and the health care system. Camps are not a solution. The history of Palestine is rife with thought-provoking lessons about lives spent in camps. Turkey must see camps as temporary solutions; they should not be permanent. These camps, located near the border, will be prone to security problems. Located away from Syria and isolated from Turkey, these camps should not be permanent solutions.
Turkey has shouldered the burden of sustaining the refugees who have taken shelter across Turkey alone so far. The resources it has spent to this end can hardly be underestimated. The flow of refugees to Europe has disrupted the political balances in many countries, not only in the European Union. Far-right parties and movements are on the rise. Despite this, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is boldly continuing with the “open door” policy. Turkish-German cooperation could make this policy manageable. The solution lies not in Brussels but in cooperation between Ankara and Berlin. Certain EU countries like Poland and Hungary do not want to receive refugees and refugees do not want to go to these countries. The position of France and the UK is important, but they are not so keen. The number of refugees they have offered to accept is ridiculous. A brief look at the debates in recent months is enough to tell us that it would be naive to expect anything but money from Brussels. Yet, the money is not most important point here.
In Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, we have to provide humanitarian living conditions for refugees and a future for their children. If we fail to do this, we cannot prevent the dead bodies of children from washing up on our shores. People will try to leave for the sake of their children.
Not only Europe but also Canada, the US and Latin America should extend a helping hand. If countries like Germany, France and the UK do not accept responsibility, the burden on Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan cannot be assuaged. To date, only Merkel is aware of this responsibility. Paris and Amsterdam are under pressure from politicians like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. Such racist perspectives existed before the refugee crisis. These people are simply using this crisis for the time being and will find another in the future. Our answer to racists should be to promote solidarity and humanitarian values. Hatred cannot be tolerated. Le Pen, Wilders, the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) feed on the same source of hatred. It was for this reason that the meeting between Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was important. It took place in Berlin, but it wasn’t very far from the Syrian border.