On Turkey’s Refugee Crisis

Turkey Refugee Crisis Essay
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Refugee Crisis. Image by kalhh from Pixabay

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It is no secret that in recent history the world has seen a dramatic surge in refugee crises due to various social, economic, and political issues.

One of the main reasons for this crisis is the endless and pointless wars that have taken place or are still taking place across the world. The most recent refugee crisis is the European refugee crisis, also known as the European migrant crisis, which began in 2015.

The European refugee crisis has seen over 1.3 million people, most of them from Syria, trying to make their way into Europe in order to seek asylum. This was the most significant movement of refugees since the Second World War.

The European refugee crisis was mainly a result of the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many refugees fled the Balkans due to economic reasons, and many came from Pakistan, Nigeria, and Eritrea fleeing human rights abuses and terrorist insurgencies in the region.

The European refugee crisis is a vast and extensive phenomenon comprised of several different crises taking place in different countries during this period.

In this essay, we will be discussing the refugee crisis in one such country which forms part of the wider European refugee crisis. This essay is on the Turkish refugee crisis, also known as the Turkish migrant crisis, and we will take a brief look into its history and its peak during the 2010s.

Let us start with a quick history of the refugee crisis Turkey has gone through so far, starting with the days of the Ottoman Empire, from the late 18th century until the end of the 20th century.

During this period, it is estimated that around 10 million Muslim citizens of the Ottoman Empire and their descendants born as the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating, migrated to the regions of Anatolia and Thrace, both of which form part of modern-day Turkey.

The second significant influx of refugees into Turkey began in 1980 with the onset of the war between Iran and Iraq and with the success of the Iranian Revolution. These two historic events led to a major refugee crisis with millions of people fleeing Iran and Iraq to make their way to Turkey for safety and security. The majority of these refugees were Iranians.

It is estimated that between 1980 and 1991 over 1.5 million Iranians and over 51,000 Iraqis came as refugees to Turkey. The war with Iran and the Kurdish Rebellion of 1983 was primarily responsible for this rise in the influx of Iraqi refugees in Turkey.

The onset of the Gulf War in August 1990 after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait saw another wave of refugees making their way to Turkey in search of asylum.

Then came the Afghanistan War beginning in 2001 when an international military coalition led by the United States invaded Afghanistan in order to topple the Islamic Emirate established by the Taliban in 1996. By then, the Taliban was at its peak and controlled around 90% of Afghanistan.

The United States brought down the Islamic Emirate after three years of fighting and established the Islamic Republic. However, this would lead to the longest war in the military history of the United States, eventually ending almost 20 years later in 2021 with the Taliban successfully overthrowing the Islamic Republic to re-establish the Islamic Emirate as the troops of the United States withdrew from Afghanistan.

This longstanding war in Afghanistan once again saw Turkey experience an influx of refugees coming from Afghanistan and even Iraq.

But Turkey’s greatest and most significant refugee crisis began in 2011 with the onset of the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian Civil War is an ongoing multi-sided civil war between the Syrian Arab Republic led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and supported by international and domestic allies, and the various international and domestic forces that oppose the Assad-led Syrian government as well as each other.

These opposing forces include The Syrian Salvation Government faction, which is a coalition of Sunni Islamist rebel groups headed by Tahrir al-Sham, an armed political organization. The war also includes the Syrian Interim Government, which is an alliance of pro-democratic, nationalist opposition groups consisting of the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Army.

There are several other factions fighting in this messy civil war, including Salafi Jihadist organizations such as Islamic State and the Al-Nusra front.

The violence and destruction resulting from the ongoing civil war have forced many Syrians to flee the country and seek asylum in neighboring Turkey. As of 2020, Turkey has over 3.7 million registered refugees and has spent over $30 billion on refugee assistance.

As per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey hosts around 63% of all the Syrian refugees in the world, with more than a third of them settled in southeastern Turkey near the Turkey-Syria border.

Needless to say, such a constant influx of refugees from different regions is not easy to handle and manage. The Turkish government found it difficult to handle such a dramatic increase in the number of refugees and was unable to immediately establish standard refugee camps to accommodate the refugees.

However, Turkey soon established temporary accommodation centers near the Syrian border to house the refugees. These centers were managed by the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency.

Many refugees even settled down outside of the temporary accommodation centers and integrated into Turkish communities in regions where the Turkish government permitted them to settle. In these regions, the refugees eventually found some work that helped them to earn a livelihood as well as contribute to Turkey’s economy.

This massive influx of refugees obviously had a drastic and significant social, political, and economic effect on Turkey. Turkey began to incur huge expenses while taking care of the refugees, as they tried to provide them with medical aid, education, employment, and other basic needs.

Turkey undertook these measures with minimum support from other countries and referred to it as their morality-oriented approach to the refugee crisis instead of a security-oriented approach.

However, these measures had their downsides too, resulting in an increase in the unemployment rate in southern Turkey due to the presence of low-paid refugees, and an increase in the prices of food, property, and houses.

Other serious problems came into existence due to the increase in the number of refugees. For instance, the Turkish population began demanding intervention and stoppage to letting refugees enter Turkey due to their link to militants and an increase in human trafficking from various countries into Turkey and then into Europe.

Illegal crossings and smuggling became rampant, and terrorist attacks within Turkey were carried out frequently, such as the 2013 Reyhanli bombings, the 2015 Suruç and Ankara bombings, and the 2016 Istanbul bombing, and rocket attacks. The 2015 Ankara bombings were the deadliest terror attack in Turkish history.

In order to prepare for and counter these security and social risks, the Turkish government began maintaining migrant profiles and tracking the mobility of migrants and their needs. The data gathered enables the government to plan short-term and long-term policies and programs regarding the refugee crisis.

In order to prevent smuggling and illegal crossings into Turkey, they began constructing barriers at the Turkey-Syria border and the Turkey-Iran border.

The refugee crisis in Turkey led to a refugee crisis in Europe as well, as several migrants who entered Turkey tried to make their way into Europe either legally or illegally. This forced the European Union and Turkey to begin cooperating with each other to counter this refugee crisis.

Migration became an important part of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. However, Turkey’s bid to become a full member of the European Union was delayed on grounds of Turkey’s longstanding dispute with Cyprus. This delay further complicated the relationship between Turkey and the European Union, thereby affecting their combined effort to tackle the refugee crisis.

However, in 2012, Turkey and Greece agreed to cooperate and implement border control to prevent refugees from entering Greece. Greece built a razor-wire fence along its border with Turkey. Due to this fence, the refugees began making their way to Bulgaria from Turkey, thereby compelling Bulgaria to also build a fence to prevent them from entering their borders.

Turkey and the European Union eventually entered into a joint action plan to develop mechanisms to prevent refugees from migrating to European Union states and improve border security.

As per this joint action plan, the European Union has allocated 3 billion euros toward this end, to help ease the financial burden on Turkey. And once this funding would come to an end, additional funding of 3 billion euros up to the end of 2018 would be allocated.

Turkey and the European Union also agreed to work on improving humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in the hope that it would ease the refugee crisis. The plan also stated that any new refugee coming from Turkey to the Greek islands will be returned to Turkey, and for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian would be resettled into the European Union.

Turkey also agreed to take measures to prevent the opening of new land and sea routes for illegal migration from Turkey to Europe. And once the crisis reduced or ended, the two parties agreed to start a voluntary humanitarian admission scheme.

Unfortunately, the refugee crisis has not been reduced yet let alone brought to an end. Efforts to moderate peace and promote de-escalation in Syria are still underway but have not yielded the desired results.

Discussions about Syrian refugees returning to Syria are also underway, however, planning and organizing such returns at the moment seems a far-off event as the safety of refugees is still of major concern with no real progress on the matter.

Turkey has been pushing for the de-escalation of regions to create safe zones for returning refugees and civilians. Although world powers refused to help in creating such safe zones initially, Russia and Turkey agreed in 2017 to create a demilitarized zone in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib Governorate which would be patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces.

However, the safe zones in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta are already insecure and under serious threat, both gradually disappearing. The safe zones have now turned into conflict zones. Believing that such safe zones will help curb the migration of Syrians, Turkey is still attempting to create such zones even though it is an uphill battle that seems difficult to achieve anytime soon due to the non-cooperation or difference in goals of world powers.

Turkey is no doubt trying its best to clear its borders of militants, but without the active aid and support of other countries, it seems almost impossible to create safe zones for refugees and civilians, end the Syrian civil war, and stop this massive unending wave of refugees.