Faced with the influx of refugees seeking to cross into Europe, Turkey once again called on EU countries to help it by opening its doors to desperate crowds suffering from rejection and deaths en route to the continent
With people risking their lives to reach Europe from its coast, Ankara has called on European countries to embrace refugees who face rejection in Europe, which has been criticized for its inaction in the face of refugees' plight. Turkish leaders unanimously criticized Europe and called on the leaders of the European Union to take action to end the plight of refugees who increasingly seek to travel to the continent in pursuit of a better life after fleeing the conflicts in their countries. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had slammed Europe's treatment of refugees while interim Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called on world leaders to share the responsibility in tackling the Syrian refugee crisis. Speaking to CNN International, Erdoğan said he and his family was devastated when they saw the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed ashore on the coast of Bodrum in southwestern Turkey. Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi was among 12 Syrians who drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Bodrum, a popular spot for hundreds of refugees embarking on dangerous trips to nearby Greek islands every day.
Pressure is mounting on Europe to admit more refugees whose ordeal was highlighted when the image of Kurdi sparked outrage over the state of refugees. Erdoğan said people questioned the humanity and conscience of such an occurrence, noting that the Mediterranean has become a graveyard for many children, mothers and fathers while the Turkish Coast Guard has rescued tens of thousands of people from drowning.
"As a matter of fact, the Western world is guilty for this," Erdoğan said. The president emphasized that European countries littoral to the Mediterranean Sea did not want to admit refugees while Turkey received them as guests.
Turkey, already hosting more than 1.9 million Syrian refugees displaced by the ongoing conflict in their countries, faces a heavy burden, and though Ankara underlines it is doing its best to help the refugees, migrants facing uncertainty in the country, look to Europe for a better life and more permanent residence.
Erdoğan said Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Hungary and other countries can do what Turkey did for refugees but they did not. The president also criticized a German minister's proposal to distinguish the migrants by their profession, classifying them as skilled and unskilled migrants during their admission. "What kind of approach is that? It is not possible to understand that," Erdoğan said.
Addressing a business summit that brought together international figures of the business world on Friday, Davutoğlu said the lifeless body of Kurdi should be a warning sign for everyone. "If Syrian children are not safe in their homes, our children will not be safe in Ankara, Paris, London or New York [City]. These children cannot decide where they are born. Our decisions, wrong decisions, shape their future. Turkey has been trying to reach out to the world over the past four years, warning about a humanitarian crisis in Syria. Millions of refugees, millions of children are victims of a regime of oppression and terrorist organizations," he said.
Davutoğlu added that he was proud to be the prime minister of a country that admitted more than 2 million refugees from Syria and Iraq. "We don't have a big economy like developed countries. We spent more than $6 billion in the past four years from taxes our citizens paid. The Syrian population is greater than the local population in some cities like Kilis, yet you will never see any protest against refugees. But you see how some European leaders act, how they pen articles and make speeches about Europe being home to a Christian community and Muslims should not be there," he said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an opinion piece in a German newspaper that the influx of refugees into Europe threatened to undermine the continent's Christian roots and that governments must control their borders before they can decide how many asylum seekers they can take. "Turkey opened its doors to 2 million refugees and did not ask them who they were. They came to our country they viewed as a safe haven, just like Jews escaping genocide [in Spain] came to Turkey in the 15th century. Our doors will always remain open to children, to victims of oppressive regimes, no matter what risks Turkey are subject to," Davutoğlu said.
Europe remains divided on how to handle the influx of refugees, with countries in the immediate outreach of refugees such as Hungary and Eastern European countries trying to shift the blame to more influential members of the pan-European body, namely Germany, for not helping their struggle with the crisis.
Though Turkey has a land border with two European countries, Bulgaria and Greece, the sea route is closer for migrants who flock to the country's 2,600-kilometer-long Aegean coast stretching from Çanakkale in the north to Muğla in the southwest, the two most popular provinces among migrants for their proximity to Greece. Migrants are those either already living in Turkey, often in impoverished conditions, or those who use Turkey as a path to Europe, traveling from the country's southern border, which is hundreds of kilometers away from the Aegean coast.
Professor Ayhan Kaya, head of Bilgi University's European Union Institute and an expert on Europe and migration, said the EU had provided safeguards for refugees entering EU countries legally under the Treaty of Lisbon that came into force in 2009. The treaty calls for the resettlement of refugees within the EU if a member state faces an influx of refugees from a third country. "But the European Union is now far from building a common policy on refugees. Apparently, except for the governments of Italy, Greece, Sweden and Germany, governments in Europe have not fully grasped the emergency and extent of the issue," he said.
On a question of what Europe should do, Kaya said the public in EU countries could exert more pressure on their governments to formulate policies that would allow the admission of more refugees. "Such pressure is developing in Germany and Sweden," Kaya said.
The EU had set binding quotas for members to take in refugees with European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker proposing a quota for members to take in 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy although this target, which will be tripled, failed to exceed 32,000 with countries wrangling over the matter. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has called on EU nations to develop a strategy to resettle up to 200,000 refugees already in Europe. Kaya said there will be tough negotiations on the resettlement of 200,000 refugees. "Britain, as always, pursues taking in skilled refugees. Countries are reluctant to take in unskilled migrants and some countries are even avoiding taking in Muslim refugees. Islamophobia, on the rise since the 9/11 attacks, unfortunately forced countries and the public to be more cautious about Muslims," he said. Regarding non-European countries, Kaya said wealthy Arab countries also need to start taking action on refugees.
On Turkey's stance regarding refugees, Kaya said both the state and the public made valuable contributions to the issue but more is needed to develop "a pro-refugee" mindset. "Unfortunately, these people were treated as guests in the beginning and the public is now adopting a negative stance towards them, thinking they overstayed their welcome. This forces impoverished refugees who feel they are not safe here to brave death and take sea voyages or resort to other ways to access Europe. We have to help these people more. We have to remember they are not merely numbers but human beings," Kaya said.
With no end in sight to the plight of refugees fleeing the raging conflict in Syria, Turkey had proposed the establishment of a safe zone that would both help Syrians not be forced to flee their homes as well as refugee-taking countries to be relieved of the heavy burden refugees place on host countries. The safe zone, which would be accompanied by a no-fly zone jointly protected by several countries, did not come to fruition yet as the international community remains reluctant to establish such a zone. "Peace should be achieved first in Syria and then we should talk about mechanism to preserve peace. United Nations Security Council should stop acting solely in line with their national interests and start taking people of Syria and Middle East into consideration. They should exert efforts for stability in the region," Kaya said.
Uğur Yıldırım, chairman of the Istanbul-based International Refugee Rights Association, said the image of Kurdi may be "a spark to remind about the drama of people who fled their countries to save their lives." Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), he said Syrian refugees simply escaped death and they were not in search of a better life. "The situation is not confined to Turkey. People also travel from Libya to Europe, and there are more than 60 million people in the world trying to flee their country - a massive number not seen since World War Two," he said. "Europe does not want to see the migrants and acts hypocritically. They speak of universal human rights and live in luxury but they avoid giving even a small space for these people," he added. Yıldırım said it is difficult to monitor migrant crossings, and stressed that instead of building walls, better solutions should be discussed. "The solution will not come from the states but peoples of countries to where refugees travel. People should impose pressure on their governments for a positive solution to the crisis," Yıldırım said.