"Today, there are around 260 million migrants, over 68 million displaced people and more than 25 million refugees worldwide. These numbers are increasing day by day due to hunger, famine, civil wars, terrorist attacks, political uncertainties and economic reasons," said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his speech at the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Budapest Process on Migration. The numbers indicate it is the biggest problem the world will face most in this century.
Currently, Turkey continues to host the largest number of refugees worldwide. Turkey has spent nearly $37 billion for refugees from Syria and Iraq alone. Financial assistance from the EU and U.N., however, has been around $2.25 billion, so far.
Spending money or finding funding is the easiest part of the job. The real challenge is to create the conditions that will allow millions of migrants from a lot of countries, particularly from Syria, to remain in their homeland.
For years, Turkey has been trying to set up a safe zone along its border with Syria. Northern Syria should be cleared of terrorist groups and the conditions for people to return to their homes should be ensured. Again, preparations should be made to resettle people in safe zones without the danger of death in the case of new waves of migration.
The fight against terrorism
I think Turkey is the only country that develops policies on the issue while putting Syrians first. Other countries are mostly engaged in activities that designed to serve their own interests. It's clear that there is a plan to create a substate entity along the Syrian border for the People's Protection Units (YPG), the PKK's Syrian affiliate, under the pretext of the Daesh threat. Turkey vehemently opposes this. Though there were attempts to conceal the PKK and YPG within artificial entities like the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and to create a fait accompli, Turkey has shattered many of those myths with the operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch. Thus, both the planned corridor was thwarted and the myth of Daesh's invincibility was dispelled. Also, it was revealed that the YPG's fighting power was not as it had been claimed.
A recent incident confirmed once again that the YPG and Daesh are not actually fighting but cooperating. After a Daesh militant who crossed from Syria into Turkey to launch an attack in a big city was detained and interrogated, it came to light that he had planned the attack with YPG militants. A Daesh militant brought a bomb-laden vehicle into Turkey. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, "Daesh would take back its fighters captured by the PYD in exchange for that," adding that the PKK is selling the oil that it produces in Syria with the help of Daesh and that the two group share the proceeds.
The U.S. is thousands of miles away from the region and has no border with it. But how to interpret the attitude of EU countries? While praising Turkey for sparing the continent a huge catastrophe, they are not willing to share this heavy burden, nor do they extend political support to Turkey's utterly rational proposals to solve the problem at its source. On the contrary, they have helped the YPG establish control in Syria and try to neutralize Turkey's efforts.
Is this not a contradiction? Although they are afraid of a refugee influx from Syria, they support terrorist groups and risk triggering a mass migration instead of bringing solutions to solve the problem at its source. While Turkey's territorial integrity, its fight against terrorism and border security are ignored, it is expected to both keep hosting the 4 million refugees it took in and to contain the problem inside its borders if a new refugee influx occurs. To top it all, there are the biased, extremely harsh, unfair and hostile Turkey progress reports from EU countries.
But there is no such world in which fair and balanced understandings of the regional problems Turkey faces are offered, of course. Turkey is already overburdened in every sense of the word. That's what Erdoğan emphasized at the Budapest Process conference: "Keeping Syrian refugees within Turkey's borders cannot be considered the only way to solve the problem of migration. If another new wave of Syrian refugees follows, Turkey won't be able to cope with it on its own anymore."
As you know, in the event of a possible operation in Idlib by the Syrian regime and Russia, at least 500,000 people would rush to the Turkish border. It was estimated that this number will climb to 2 million if the conflict lingers. Once more Turkey was the only country that did something about the issue and a catastrophe was averted for the moment thanks to its good relations with Russia. While the Geneva process stalled, one of the many concrete results from the trilateral Astana mechanism was the prevention of a humanitarian tragedy.
The risk is real
But as Erdoğan pointed out, Turkey shouldering the whole burden alone in the absence of a peaceful solution for the Syrian conflict at its source would not be a real remedy. The Idlib Agreement is a temporary solution. Hence the risk remains.
On the other hand, Turkey calls for returning the 4 million refugees it is currently hosting to their homes safely and securely and in line with human dignity. For this purpose, in addition to supporting a political solution within the framework of Syria's territorial integrity, a safe zone should be created in the north as well. Turkey has declared through the highest official source that it will not be able to contain the problem within its borders anymore.
Major EU countries had better take Erdoğan's words seriously. The best solution for all is to restore stability in Syria. It is necessary to help Syria stand on its own again instead of supporting either demographic or political efforts that have no relevance at all. Turkey promises to shoulder the heaviest burden regarding both the issue of a safe zone and the fight against terrorism. Neither the PKK, Daesh nor other radical groups have a chance against the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Moreover, the TSK has the power and sensitivity to conduct these operations in an utterly humane way, unlike coalition forces which destroy everything in their path, as they did in Raqqa and Mosul, and disregard civilian casualties.
It's time to set aside fantasies and tricks with regard to Syria, refugees and terrorism. Ankara is determined to not foot the bill alone this time.