On Sunday, we spent the day on a media tour with the European Union’s Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianedis who wanted to showcase the kinds of projects that the EU plans to spend the 3 billion Euros it's pledged on as part of its deal to work with Turkey on the refugee crisis.
Turkey has the largest refugee population in the world, with 2.2 million of them being Syrian. The majority of Syrian refugees live in cities and towns with little to no access to aid. These are the people that the EU wants to target, and it wants to do so, the Commissioner told us, by providing them with temporary protection. The key word here is “temporary” because the expectation is that the refugees will eventually go back home to Syria.
There is no doubt that the EU is aware of the acute vulnerability of the refugees and that charity groups and local partners, which we met, are working very hard to help those in need.
Commissioner Stylianedis thanked Turkey for its immense generosity towards the Syrian refugees. He visited a Syrian family living on the outskirts of Gaziantep to listen to their needs and concerns. He, then, went to a supermarket that accepts EU vouchers for families to buy food and other necessities, and finished his tour at a youth and education centre.
But, the one aspect that did not come up during our tour is "Migration Management." This is the part of the deal that calls on Turkey to tighten its border control, and asks Ankara to take back those who made it to Europe, but are deported because they are deemed to be in need for protection.
I wanted to ask the Commissioner about how one can determine who is and is not in need of protection, in cases where a country is at war or under dictatorship, and how will the EU ensure the deportations proceed properly and in a way that respects the rights of the deported? I also wanted to know whether the EU has a contingency plan in case Syrians aren’t able to go back to their country anytime soon.
However, I didn’t get a chance to sit down with the Commissioner because his visit was abruptly cut short by a snowstorm that forced him to leave earlier than expected. He flew out to Ankara to hold high-level meetings on Monday. And while those meetings were taking place, we headed to the Basra working class neighbourhood of Gaziantep to meet some of the Syrians that the EU promises to help.
Author: Zeina Awad