Blurring the Borders: Syrian Spillover Risks for Turkey, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the issue of cross-border aid and the situation of Syrian refugees in the border province of Hatay, which epitomises the humanitarian and security challenges Ankara faces. Turkey has generously welcomed up to 450,000 refugees, but this is unlikely to be sustainable if the war continues past 2013 and the international community does not share the burden.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
- Turkey should allow entry to all Syrians who flee and have massed on the Syrian side of the border, and it should facilitate quick registration for international humanitarian organisations offering aid to Syrians. The international donor community should increase funding and assistance, and European states should share the burden by accepting more Syrian refugees.
- UN agencies should engage immediately with Damascus. Members of the UN Security Council on 18 April underlined the need to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance, including across borders. Syrian authorities should cooperate fully with the UN and relevant humanitarian organisations and allow them to deliver cross-border aid.
- In the meantime, the international community, where security allows, should scale up existing cooperation with Syrian local communities and organisations across the Turkish border to help Syrians in the north, particularly in cut-off areas. All parties should ensure safe and unimpeded access for aid organisations.
- Turkey should stop betting on a quick resolution of the Syria crisis, give full support for a negotiated settlement, and take steps to avoid any perception in the region that it is seeking to act as a partisan, Sunni Muslim hegemon.
- Timely Turkish precautions have calmed sectarian tensions in the pivotal Turkish border province of Hatay, and Ankara should sustain initiatives to keep off-duty Syrian opposition fighters away from Alevi-populated areas and to settle new Sunni Muslim refugees elsewhere.
“Turkey has responded remarkably to the humanitarian crisis on its border, accepting ever larger numbers of Syrians and meeting their needs with little international support”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “But as the Syrian crisis is likely to continue, Ankara needs to open up more to international partners and develop a comprehensive multi-year plan to ensure the sustainability of its response”.
“Ankara wants to build a sphere of influence, stability and prosperity in the Muslim countries to its south”, says Hugh Pope, Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus Project Director. “A well-planned, non-sectarian policy to care for the large refugee population inside Turkey will allow Ankara to lay the foundation for friendly relations with whatever Syria emerges from the conflict”.