Turkey and the European Union "100 percent" agree with each other on reaching a political solution in Syria, Christian Berger, head of the EU delegation to Turkey, said Monday.
"The humanitarian support and other support we provide are of course important. But another subject that is equally as important is to find a political solution in Syria," Berger said during a visit to a refugee health center in Istanbul's Esenyurt district.
Accompanied by a delegation from the EU, who are in the country to observe Turkey's work for Syrian refugees, he added that Turkey and the EU are like minded on this matter.
Stating that it is not possible to find a solution through temporary approaches in Syria, Berger said the problem must be eradicated at its roots.
Berger also praised Turkey's efforts for the Syrian refugees in the country, reminding that there are 178 refugee health centers in total in Turkey. He said after finishing their visits in Istanbul, they will move to Gaziantep to pay visits there.
Since the breakout of the Syrian civil war in 2011, more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees have escaped their country and moved toward Turkey as a safe haven. As the war has dragged on, Turkey shifted its policy toward refugees from simple protection and humanitarian aid to integration as only a small fraction of the overall refugee population stays in state-run camps near the border with Syria, while the rest are spread out across Turkey. Women and children make up the majority of the refugees.
According to Turkey's Public Auditing Agency (KDK) a total of 276,158 Syrians were born to refugee families in Turkey between 2011 – the year the war broke out – and 2017.
Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has led the efforts to shelter refugees. At some 21 accommodation centers, including tent camps and modern prefabricated housing units, AFAD hosts 227,894 Syrian refugees. The rest either live in houses they rent or have bought, or at homes provided by charities throughout all of Turkey's 81 provinces.
"We need to appreciate that Turkey is hosting 3.5 million Syrians and other refugees," Berger underlined, emphasizing that Turkish society, government and nongovernmental organizations welcomed people who escaped from the Syrian civil war and showed incredible support.
"In last few years, we are closely working with Turkish authorities on this matter. We are trying to contribute to the works Turkey does regarding refugees," Berger indicated.
Turkey and the EU signed an agreement in 2016 to solve Europe's most pressing problem, the influx of refugees to the union. The agreement foresees that in exchange for Turkey stemming the refugee flow to Europe, the EU would pay Turkey 6 billion euros in financial aid. The agreement also envisages acceleration in Turkey's EU accession talks and visa-free travel for its citizens.
The EU paid the first 3 billion euros tranche for 2016-2017 and promised to pay the second tranche for 2018-2019 by the end of this year. Although Turkey did its part, taking great responsibility, the EU failed to hold up its end of the agreement. The EU has been delaying implementing visa-free travel for Turkish citizens for two years since the deal came into effect. Irregular arrivals to the EU decreased by 99 percent thanks to Turkey's efforts.