Compassion without fear: Syrian refugees

ABDULLAH ÇELIK
Published 04.09.2019 00:12

The impact of the Syrian civil war created massive humanitarian crises and destabilized the current political structures in many countries around the globe. There are two main discourses competing in the emerging trend of political discourse.

The first group's aim is to gain popularity among the traditional voters by inflaming their patriotic and nationalist sentiments through the use of discriminatory and often hateful discourse. Contrary to this, the second group builds their politics around a discourse based on coexistence and integration.

The current political outlook, nevertheless, indicates that despite of heavy propaganda by the first group, the latter still has much support from the public. For instance, the discourse in Turkey's recent election was heavily influences by this particular debate.

Since Turkey maintains an open-door policy and is the top refugee-hosting country in the world, the presence of more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees – according to the UNHCR – made this issue inevitable. As a result of these crises, the political arena has been greatly influenced and encouraged some parties that use the refugee crises as a tool to gain popularity.

For example, a manifesto that was delivered by the Republican People's Party (CHP) in the 2015 general elections was parallel to the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) discourse as well as showing an awareness about border security, housing for refugees, protecting them from labor exploitation in the job market and access to education. However, this manifesto has changed drastically since then and developed into an anti-refugee rhetoric in the 2018 presidential elections as well as the 2019 mayoral elections.

The CHP's anti-refugee rhetoric has openly served the culture of discrimination and alienation. This can be observed in the speeches and the campaigns run by the CHP and its supporters which are targeting innocent people and vulnerable families who have escaped bloodshed and a civil war. The newly elected mayor of Bolu, Tanju Özcan, who is from the main opposition CHP, who cut aid to Syrian refugees, had said, "I told our voters that this aid has reached an unbearable level. We have cared for them for seven years, giving them our children's livelihood. After this, I won't give a single penny to Syrian refugees from the municipality's budget."

This ideological propaganda toward refugees has led to the increase in anti-refugee sentiment; as a consequence some innocent Syrian people face great difficulties such as being forced to go back towar zones.

Furthermore, another big accusation is portraying refugee communities as the cause of unemployment. The expelling of Syrian refugees has moved to the top of the list for some of the main opposition party members, thus bringing a greater problem to society in general. The transition of Syrian refugees into the Turkish community should be a mission for all levels of Turkish society.

This rhetoric of hate, populism, racism and xenophobia will need to change and become a discourse of coexistence. Integration of these individuals, children and families to social life is crucial. However, with this evil and nefarious rhetoric this will not be an easy transition for Syrian refugees.

Turkey has been fighting terrorist groups along its borders, clearing areas of Daesh and the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG), rebuilding towns and bringing life back to normal and enabling refugees to return safely to their country. As President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated, it is Turkey's priority to remove the terrorist corridor in Syria and turn it into a "security corridor."

While Turkish authorities are clearing the border and ensuring the safe and voluntary return of Syrians who want to go back to their homes, Turkey has taken vital steps for Syrian refugees' long-term integration to be smooth and effective. For example, Turkey is opening refugee education centers and using Arabic-language options on government websites so bureaucratic issues can be accomplished effectively. Moreover, the Turkish government has opened scores of new schools and over 600,000 Syrian children are enrolled in the education system, according to the Education Ministry.

However, President Erdoğan also added that despite all these efforts the West has not put much effort in rehabilitating war-torn areas. Another step Turkey took with Russia in Sochi was to form a de-escalation zone for civilians so there would be fewer refugees crossing over the Turkish border. Despite being the top refugee-hosting country, Turkey has basically been left alone to handle this burden.

A Turkish-EU refuge deal reached in March of 2016 is an important achievement despite certain setbacks. The EU and Turkey agreed to speed up membership talks after Ankara promised to cut the number of refugees fleeing to Greece in return for financial aid and visa-free travel for its citizens across the bloc. However, the European Union has not fulfilled its promises and has not delivered on its commitments.

Lastly, a move toward nationalism and isolationism will not be the solution for this kind of humanitarian crisis. That route has been used several times in the past and it inevitably leads to deeper divisions and cycles of destruction.

If nations come together with compassion and without the fear that brings prejudice, then we can deliver an effective collective response to the escalating refugee crisis; otherwise the current waves of migration will not be the last. As such, the international community, in particular the EU, has to accept the situation and must come together and find a genuinely robust, lasting solution. It is time for the world to step up and lend a helping hand in order to solve the refugee crisis.

* Researcher at TRT World Research Centre

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