Continuous refugee flows from Syria are stretching Turkey’s capacities and necessitate long-term adjustments as well as stronger international engagement to better share the burden.
In its latest report, The Rising Costs of Turkey’s Syrian Quagmire, the International Crisis Group examines the country’s humanitarian efforts toward Syrians both on its territory and in northern Syria; the tension between its public’s sympathy for and unease toward the refugees; the extent of Ankara’s support to Syria’s political and military opposition; and its regional role in finding a compromise solution to the conflict. The three-year crisis has taken its toll on Turkey, which hosts more than 720,000 refugees and has suffered over 75 fatalities of its own in spillover fighting. Many Syrians will remain for years, and if Turkey is to maintain an open-door policy, it needs more international support in providing for them.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
To shelter destitute Syrian refugees, Ankara and the international community should agree on a hous-ing scheme. Possibilities for donors include conditional cash assistance or housing vouchers as Turkey adds appropriately to its housing stock.
To plug gaps in Syrians’ registration and access to social rights, Turkey should build on its April 2013 law on foreigners and immigration to supply all the refugees with uniform identity papers, work permits and professional qualification certificates and to ensure access to social care and education.
The Turkish government and the international community need to cooperate more closely on humanitarian aid. Turkey should do more to facilitate registration for international humanitarian non-governmental organisations and, by clearly separating humanitarian aid routes to Syria from those used for other supplies, reduce the risks these organisations run.
The EU, multilateral aid groups and the wider international community should support local infrastructure in Turkey, including health care, education and basic services. The EU and its member states should offer temporary protection in Europe to more Syrians, allow family reunifications and uphold the principle of non-expulsion of Syrian refugees. They should continue to provide humanitarian aid to all parts of Syria where roads are secure and push for UN approval of the widest possible cross-border humanitarian operation.
By returning to greater sectarian and ethnic neutrality in foreign policy and maintaining open commu-nication with regional counterparts, including Iran, Turkey should work reciprocally to de-escalate for-eign involvement in the Syrian war and build an environment more conducive to peace.
“Turkey has built for its Syrian guests the world’s best shelters, but they are expensive, temporary and not sufficient for the continuous flow” says Didem Collinsworth, Turkey/Cyprus Analyst. “Turkey needs a comprehensive accommodation strategy to deal with the influx but should not have to pay for this alone”.
“While spared the worst of the sectarian and military spillover, Turkey faces deadly car bombs and armed incidents on its territory, especially as northern Syria remains an unpredictable no-man’s-land”, says Hugh Pope, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Program Director. “Ankara should do more to control its border, show zero tolerance of jihadi abuses and promote a compromise political solution in Syria”.