At a recent conference, Turkish officials reiterated that in order to find a solution to the number of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-battered country for neighboring states, it is necessary to create a humanitarian corridor in Syria that would allow for the delivery of aid inside of the country.
Urgent aid needs to be sent to Syria and the way to do that is to open a humanitarian corridor in the country. This is an obligation [of the international community] for the influx [of refugees] to cease.
Esen Altug, deputy director-general for immigration, asylum, and visas at the Foreign Ministry of Turkey
The conference focused on Turkey’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers, and it was organized by JWF’s Women’s Platform in Ankara on April 25, 2013, after a year of preparation. JWF Chairman Mustafa Yesil stated that the conference’s purpose was to find solutions for Turkey’s refugee influx crisis.
International relations and international law professors, as well as civil society representatives and government officials, were among the speakers at the conference, including Dr. Nuray Eksi, an international law professor at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University; Zeynep Sahin Mencutek, assistant professor of international relations at Izmir’s Gediz University; Meera Sethi, Turkey’s mission chief of the International Organization of Migration; Turan Erkoc, advisor and coordinator of the Syrian desk at the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency; and Oktay Durukan, director of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly.
Featured speaker Esen Altug, deputy director-general for immigration, asylum, and visas at the Foreign Ministry of Turkey, stated that Turkey expects the West to be sensitive to the Syrian refugees’ situation. She said the amount of incoming international aid for the refugees is not sufficient.
Currently, Turkey is hosting 200,000 refugees in established camps, and there are an additional 200,000 staying in various Turkish provinces. Other than Turkey, there are also significant numbers of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. UN authorities estimate that the number of refugees in each host country could hit 1 million in the near future.
“Urgent aid needs to be sent to Syria and the way to do that is to open a humanitarian corridor in the country. This is an obligation [of the international community] for the influx [of refugees] to cease,” Altug said.
The total amount of foreign financial aid — in kind and in cash — Turkey has received for the Syrian refugees so far has amounted to roughly $92 million according to data from the Foreign Ministry; however, as of the beginning of the month, the country had spent more than $600 million to meet the humanitarian needs of the refugees. A large portion of the funds Turkey received — $50 million — was donated by Saudi Arabia in February.
Turkey has spent more than all European Union countries combined on assisting the Syrian refugees, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said before a meeting of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee in Ankara in mid-February. Altug added that Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), congratulated Turkey during a visit to the refugee camps in mid-March for being “exemplary” in dealing with the problems of Syrian refugees.
Altug said that Turkey will continue with its open door policy for Syrian refugees, also stating that Turkey is bound by the principles of non-refoulement (i.e., not sending back any refugees) and providing shelter for those who have fled.
Turkey, in addition to providing shelter, is also providing health and education services in the camps. Although Turkey says that it will not deport any of the people from Syria because it implements an open door policy, the Syrian people in Turkey do not have official refugee status according to the principles of international law in Turkey. Turkey is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, but it has also adopted the New York Protocol with a geographical limitation that only offers refugee status to persons coming from Europe.
According to that principle, the Syrian refugees staying in Turkey are currently defined as those under “temporary protection.” However, after this month’s adoption of Law No. 6458: Foreigners and International Protection, Turkey has made good progress on the legal status of foreigners coming to the country. The law is the first one Turkey has adopted on immigration.
Carol Batchelor, the UNHCR representative in Turkey, welcomed the new law during her conference speech. “Turkey took this historic decision in adopting this law, despite all the real challenges it currently faces due to the Syrian crisis. This would codify the conditions of hospitality and an international framework for the Syrian refugees,” Batchelor stated.
As of the 2000s, Turkey changed from being an emigrant country to being a destination for immigrants. In the 1960s, a significant number of Turks started working as laborers in European countries, such as Germany, Holland, and Belgium. More recently, many Turkish citizens migrated to economically better-off countries, like the US, Canada, and Australia.
However, during the last decade, Turkey has been receiving immigrants from Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian countries, which has obliged the country to adopt more regulations in dealing with refugees and immigrants.