Turkey and the refugees

Published 26.06.2015 19:36
Updated 26.06.2015 19:38

The government opened its borders to refugees escaping possible death in Syria and parts of Iraq once the civil war in Syria started. This was not the first time that masses of civilians were fleeing from this region toward the southeastern border of Turkey to save their lives. Already twice under Saddam Hussein, the Kurdish population of northern Iraq escaped to the safe side of the frontier. Mostly women, children and the elderly, the Kurdish population suffered immensely under the demonic regime of Saddam Hussein. We all know that during both mass movements, Turkish governments did not really wish to welcome hundreds of thousands migrants because of the ongoing armed conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces and the PKK. In both cases, migrants took refuge in precarious conditions, albeit sincerely helped and supported by local administrations and people, and then returned to their country.

In the case of the Syrian civil war, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's stance was very different. Not only did the then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, decide to opt for an "open doors" policy, but the infrastructure to help the refugees was very carefully planned and prepared. As a matter of fact, around 230,000 refugees live in the camps, which have set new standards for humanitarian help. This latter fact has been acknowledged and heralded by an army of different international institutions and voluntary organizations time and again since 2011. Around 2 million refugees, mainly from Syria, live in Turkey, in various cities and regions of the country. Only a 10th of these people are hosted in refugee camps, the others live within the society. They are given an interim citizenship that allows them to rent a flat, to open a bank account and to register as a service provider; in short, to normalize their lives as much as such a precarious development allows. A basic calculation shows that around $1 billion per year is spent just to manage the refugee camps. The government has repeatedly declared that Turkey is willing to undertake its financial responsibilities so long as these people are in need. Their belongings and their future in their own country are long gone. In four years' time, less than $50 million has been offered by various international organizations or countries to alleviate Turkey's burden -- clearly nothing.

Another extremely important issue in this new situation is the fact that refugees are from very different origins, mostly Arabs, an increasing number of Kurds, Turkmen, Armenian, Assyrian, Chaldean and other people are increasing the already existing large refugee population. They are helped, treated in Turkish hospitals and secured without any discrimination. Does this change the attitude of Kurdish political representatives in Turkey? Alas no. Despite this strikingly evident situation, the last attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham on Kobani has been denounced as a "terrorist operation probably backed by Turkey." It became very rapidly evident, according to local media and authorities, that Turkey had obviously nothing to do with the attack. To no avail, the co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, has even asked the government "to prove" that it had nothing to do with the terror attack.

President Erdoğan has condemned this terrorist crime strongly in vehement words, and injured people from Kobani, mostly women and children, around a 150 people, are treated in Turkish hospitals across the border. Now, the Kurdish movement has to decide between two alternatives: Whether to trust and cooperate with Turkey or to play the game of the PKK, which does not miss any occasion to create incredible black propaganda to condemn "Turks" and, more visibly, President Erdoğan. Such a situation is not sustainable and can hardly be tolerated by the overwhelming majority of Turkish people. Is this what the HDP is aiming for? Creating an atmosphere of deep discontent to present themselves again as martyrs?

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