The war in Syria has been waging on for nine years, while millions have become refugees in neighbouring countries. Turkey, with the largest number of Syrian refugees, has extended a welcome hand, but Europe has often reneged on its promises.
The Syrian war has been going on for nine years. For the past several months, Bashar al Assad’s regime forces have continued their assault on Idlib with the support of Russia. The war has turned many Syrian civilians into refugees –– more than 5.5 million people at last count by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
These refugees are spread out among Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Turkey has the biggest population of Syrian refugees, with more than 3.5 million within its borders.
What’s more alarming is that in recent weeks, because of the regime’s increased attacks on Idlib, tens of thousands of Syrians have been displaced, trying to find a safe haven for their families. They are stuck between the Turkish border and Idlib as they try to weather the cold and severe living conditions.
The logic of Turkey's Syria refugee policy: Turkey has absorbed almost 4m refugees from Syria's war and has been warning that if Idlib falls, it couldn't afford to handle more. Now it's telling Europe: This is your problem too. https://t.co/fGVyDtc5Rq— Benjamin Harvey (@BenjaminHarvey) February 28, 2020
Meanwhile in Europe, EU countries have all but forgotten about the Syrian refugee crisis. The rise of right wing political parties in the continent has translated into less sympathy to the plight of the refugees just as there is not much hospitality to speak of.
Most recently, residents of the Greek islands of Chios and Lesbos have protested against the construction of closed refugee facilities, Anadolu Agency reported.
“There is an urgent need for de-escalation. We firmly believe that more dialogue is needed between local government and central government for a sustainable solution,” Nikolas Panagiotopoulos area manager of the International Rescue Committee told the Guardian. “It is clear the north-east Aegean islands cannot shoulder this responsibility. The EU needs to step up in solidarity because Greece cannot cope on its own.”
To put it in perspective, there are more than 43,000 refugees stranded on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, with at least 20,000 of them in Lesbos. Turkey has close to a hundred fold of these numbers and the help it is receiving from the EU is not sufficient.
In March 2016, the EU and Turkey made a deal: Turkey would host refugees and prevent them from seeking shelter in Europe in exchange for more than $6.5 billion (six billion euros) to help with the refugees in Turkey. Yet the funds never materialised fully, and Turkey has had to rely on its own coffers to support the influx of refugees from Syria.
Turkey has hosted refugees on its own dime, while striving to keep them in good living conditions and providing services such as healthcare and education.
The most recent figures say the amount of funds Turkey has spent on refugees is $40 billion. Sinan Ulgen, writing for Foreign Policy says “A humanitarian crisis of this scale should have already galvanized the international community to launch a coordinated campaign to end this suffering,” adding “But, so far, regional and global politics have stymied such efforts.”
In a paper published by Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Center for Strategic Research (SAM), associate professor Basak Kale writes “The lack of commitment for burden sharing puts refugee-receiving countries under immense financial, political and social pressures, which have direct consequences on the humanitarian assistance that refugees can receive.”
Kale goes on to say: “In the last couple of years, Turkey has been acting as a provider of public good without any significant contribution from the EU or elsewhere. So far, financial and physical burden-sharing offered by the international community or by the EU has been quite limited,” adding that “A more equitable, effective and efficient refugee burden-sharing is absolutely necessary and critical not only to safeguard international stability and security but also to provide an effective and efficient refugee protection.”