Turkey, coping with the migrant crisis

Turkey, coping with the migrant crisis

Over the past few years, there has been a sharp increase in the amount of people seeking asylum overseas. Turkey, bordering Syria – currently one of the world’s greatest conflict zones – has become host to more than 2 million refugees. Now reaching its capacity in the amount of support it can give to those fleeing warzones, the EU has stepped in to help find a solution.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide had increased by 40 per cent in 2011. By the end of 2014, the number reached approximately 59.5 million, putting the number of nationally and internationally displaced people at its highest level since World War Two.

By 2015, the number of refugees and migrants making the journey across the Mediterranean or through Southeast Europe to the European Union had increased so drastically, the situation quickly became known as the European migrant or refugee crisis.

The conflict in Syria has by far been the biggest driver if migration across Europe, but on-going violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses in Eritrea, and poverty in Kosovo, have also been monumental forces compelling people to leave their homelands in search for new lives elsewhere.

The UNHCR have revealed that the top three nationalities of the millions of Mediterranean Sea arrivals between January 2015 and March 2016 were Syrian at 46.7 per cent, Afghan at 20.9 per cent, and Iraqi at 9.4 per cent.

Managing the crisis

Of all the countries in Europe, Turkey has taken in the most refugees with the Turkish government claiming to currently be hosting approximately 2.7 million Syrian refugees, at a cost of over 10 billion USD.

Turkey has been taking in Syrian refugees since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. However, in 2015, after the intensification of the Syrian conflict lying south of Turkey’s border, the number of displaced Syrian people fleeing to Turkey almost doubled. This meant that already crowded Turkish refugee camps began to struggle in hosting more people.

The Turkish experience of the migrant crisis has mainly been shaped by policies that were developed for integrating displaced populations. Turkey is party to the 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was signed and ratified by 144 nations. The Convention acts as the preeminent authority on the manner in which host countries are to receive and treat refugees.

However, due to ‘geographical limitations’, Turkey ratified the protocol of the Convention in 1967 with ‘an exception’ that it would only accept refugees from the Council of Europe. The result is that many refugees from outside of Europe can only achieve temporary residence in Turkey while the UNHCR works to find them permanent sanctuary elsewhere.

This means that many of the Syrian refugees in Turkey are not part of an asylum regime. Instead, they are given assistance and resettled in third countries under the status of ‘temporary protection’.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, Turkey has maintained an emergency response of high standard, predominantly upholding an open-door policy and ensuring non-refoulement.

In order for Turkey’s temporary protection regime to provide assistance to its massive influx of refugees – which includes housing, humanitarian aid, education and health services – the Turkish government has had to set up over 20 refugee camps. The camps are equipped with high standard facilities, and together host approximately 217,000 people.mi2

However, 217,000 people only accounts for around 10 per cent of the Syrian population in Turkey. The remaining 90 per cent have become urban refugees, seeking to survive outside of the camps with less assistance.

While under the temporary protection scheme, the Turkish government has provided the off-camp refugees with health access, and some education and social services. However, due to being under a temporary protection scheme, refugees in Turkey are unable to gain employment, leading many to seek asylum elsewhere in Europe.

EU-Turkey deal

For the past year, especially, the refugee crisis has had a huge impact on Europe by creating tensions between members, raising questions about the future of freedom of movement within the EU’s borders, and also forcing internal reflection on the future of the EU itself.

Europe’s leaders have been trying to figure out a solution, and after months of negotiation have recently settled on a deal with Turkey. At its core, the agreement aims to address the overwhelming flow of migrants and asylum seekers travelling across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece – an EU member.

Under the deal, all new, irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece will be sent back to Turkey, and for every Syrian refugee returned to Turkey from Greece, a “one-for-one” agreement will allow one Syrian from a Turkish refugee camp to be resettled in the EU.

In return, the EU has promised to accelerate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals by speeding up plans for Turks to travel visa-free inside the Schengen area. The EU has also promised to boost existing financial support for Turkey’s refugee population by paying Ankara some of the 3.3 billion USD that it was promised in October for Turkey’s help throughout the crisis.