Turkey shelters largest number of refugees in the world
by Daily Sabah
ISTANBULAug 29, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah
Aug 29, 2015 12:00 am
As some European countries have closed borders or built new walls and tried to distribute 32,000 refugees among themselves, Turkey is already home to about 2 million refugees from regional conflicts. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in June that Turkey has the largest number of refugees in the world and has won international praise for its open-door policy.
"We estimate more than 2 million refugees are in Turkey today. Turkey very generously opened its borders to such a large number of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans," UNHCR Antonio Guterres said during a launch of the U.N. agency's 2014 Global Trends report. "That has a special meaning in a world where so many borders are closed or restricted and new walls are built," Guterres said. Turkey, which shares a 900-kilometer border with Syria, has 1,772,535 million Syrian refugees, according to the UNHCR, with more people coming in because of ongoing bloodshed in the war-torn country. The report claims that Syria is "the world's biggest producer of both internally displaced people (7.6 million) and refugees (3.88 million at the end of 2014)." A U.N. diplomat, Karim Atassi, of the UNHCR also described the situation as the Turkish people's hospitality, generosity and solidarity with its neighbors.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also criticized Europe for its half-hearted response to the refugee crisis spawned by wars in Iraq and Syria in a statement in June. "In our country, there are 2 million refugees. In Europe as a whole, this figure is not even 200,000," Erdogan said, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
Syrian refugees, stuck between a civil war and an uncertain future in their country, make up the majority of those flocking to Turkish cities on the Aegean coast to board boats heading to Greece, their main gateway to Europe. Turkey, meanwhile, is stuck between offering a dignified life for refugees, which brings a huge financial burden, and stopping their dangerous journeys that occasionally end up at the bottom of the sea as the overcrowded decrepit boats have little chance of completing the journey. The Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) handles the influx and dispatches new arrivals to refugee camps in border cities after registration.
Fearing an uncertain future with no end in sight to the ongoing civil war, Syrians, described as "guests" by Turkey, which grants them a temporary status, seek to travel to European countries in pursuit of a better life. Although Turkey is praised for the state-of-art camps it provides for Syrian refugees, they have only a capacity of less than 300,000 people. Turkey has spent more than $5 billion for Syrian refugees since 2011 and frequently criticizes the international community for doing little to address the plight of refugees. Different municipalities of Turkish cities have carried out projects to help Syrian refugees. Last month, a Psycho-Social Rehabilitation Center was opened in Istanbul's Fatih district to encourage the children in their care to express their trauma through art. Several nongovernmental organizations also signed a deal with Turkish authorities to use the outbuildings in Istanbul as schools and they try to increase the numbers of schools for refugees.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Coast Guard has also rescued thousands of migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean. A Turkish daily quoting Coast Guard statistics reported that nearly 26,000 illegal immigrants were intercepted in 756 operations between January and July in 2015. That is almost 50 times higher compared to only 546 in 2011, while nearly 2,000 illegal immigrants were intercepted in the first week of August.