Sunday, April 21, 2013

Turkey assumes burden of Syrian refugees alone

The coordinating governor of the camps in southern Turkey established for refugees who have fled the violence in Syria, Veysel Durmaz, says that the burden of maintaining the camps is virtually on Turkey’s shoulders alone.

Talking to Sunday’s Zaman, Durmaz said that through mid-April, Turkey had spent over TL 800 million on the Syrians he calls “guests under official protection.” As of April 16, the number of Syrians that live in the camps in 10 Turkish provinces is 191,400.

Governor Durmaz complains about the indifference of the international community to sharing the cost of the camps.

Durmaz says that in comparison to the TL 800 million Turkey has spent, it has received a total of only TL 86 million from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UN and some Western countries combined.

In addition, Durmaz says the salaries and other costs of employees working in the camps are not included in that TL 800 million figure.

Most of the cost of the camps is funded through the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD). There are currently 18 camps in provinces like Hatay, Kilis, Osmaniye, Adana, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Adıyaman and Kahramanmaraş. Turkey is also establishing additional camps in Malatya and Mardin.

The first groups of Syrians who fled to Turkey were initially housed in temporary shelters until the camps were established, says Durmaz. Although some entered Turkey with passports and some with other identification, there were many Syrians who arrived without any documentation. “Most of the minors are admitted without any ID. They are registered upon arrival at the camp and their fingerprints are taken,” explains Durmaz. He also adds that “all the camps conduct the same procedures and the same services are provided to all of the refugees, from healthcare to education.”

In addition to the Syrians living in the camps, there is also a considerable number of Syrians living in the Turkish towns bordering on Syria. According to Durmaz, their number almost exceeds the number of Syrians living in the camps. However, in accordance with the international agreements to which Turkey is a party, none of them are given official refugee status.

Today, cities like Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa and Mardin are host to many Syrians who came to Turkey with their passports and a temporary visa. Durmaz also says that “some entered Turkey illegally, but we do not send them back.” On the contrary, Turkey extended the visas of Syrians first from 90 days to five months and then to a year. Durmaz says their residency may be extended further and work permits could be considered for them. Syrians living outside the camps are usually the ones who can afford living in town. Although there is no reliably accurate number, Durmaz says they estimate that the “number is a little above the number of guests in the camps.” The coordinating governor also noted that students among the Syrian guests might be admitted to certain universities in Turkey.

Durmaz says Turkey has probably spent an amount equal to its expenditure for those in the camps on Syrians outside the camps, when the aid of civil society organizations and their assistance delivered inside Syria is added.

Durmaz explains that Turkey reaches out to Syrians on the other side of the border through the Turkish Red Crescent and several NGOs, including the Humanitarian Aid Association (İHH), Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There) and the Cansuyu Aid and Solidarity Association. The office of the coordinating governor also coordinates the work of NGOs in the region. According to Durmaz, there has recently been growing interest in the Syrians in the camps from what he calls the “Western intelligentsia.”

Visits to the camps, including for the media, require the permission of the Office of the Coordinating Governor. Life in the camps is difficult even when all needs are provided for (ARABASLIK)

In response to a question on problems in the camps, Durmaz says even though all essential services are provided in the camps, “We are talking about people who went through trauma,” which is why there might be occasional incidents of trouble. As he says, very often Syrians inside the camps request medical examinations in hospitals outside of the camps mostly because they want to have a change. “It is difficult to live in a restricted area no matter how well your needs are met,” Durmaz comments, as he adds that compared to other camps elsewhere, the camps in Turkey have better conditions.

In an effort to improve the standard of living of the Syrians in the camps, a new procedure was initiated. As Durmaz says, “Now guests in the camps are able to shop at a grocery store in the camp and cook their own meals. Previously we used to deliver ready-made meals. After making this change, requests for medical examinations decreased because it relieved some of the stress.”

Turkey is willing to welcome all Syrians who wish to take refuge here Durmaz says, but he notes, “We also encourage Syrians to stay in their hometown in the first place if there is no immediate threat to their security.” Turkey sends food and goods to several Syrian villages through aid organizations.

Given the trauma that Syrians in the camps went through, psychological counseling is also provided, especially for the children. “In Adana, the camp is close to the airport. When kids hear the planes, they are horrified because it brings back the memories of war in Syria,” says Durmaz.

“We cannot afford to close our doors to these people with whom we have cultural and religious ties,” comments Durmaz, as he says that there are a total of about 3 million displaced people in Syria.